The Origins of Santa Clause

The Origins of Santa Clause

The History

Santa Claus is a popular Western cultural figure associated with the Christmas holiday season. Other aliases he goes by are “Saint Nick”, “Kris Kringle”, and “Santa”.

Portrait of Saint Nicholas

Santa Clause’s mythos resides in cultural psyches throughout the world. He is a large man in red. He can traverse the entire Earth overnight at breakneck speeds with his team of flying reindeer to deliver presents. Despite his robust size, Santa can change his body to fit down a chimney. As extraordinary as this mythos sounds like many tall tales, it actually has roots in history.

The modern image of Santa Claus is based on the 4th-century Greek bishop, Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was born in the town of Patara in modern-day Turkey. Nicholas became recognized for his charitable acts during his time as bishop. Most notably, giving gifts to the poor and helping to fund the education of young students. After Saint Nicholas’s death, he became the patron saint of children, sailors, and merchants

Over time, various cultures adopted Saint Nicholas’s legend, each with its own version. In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas was known as Sinterklaas while in Germany he was called Kris Kringle. The Dutch version of the story, Sinterklaas, in the United States, became anglicized to Santa Claus.

Modern Depiction

Actor, Edmund Gwenn’s performance as Santa Clause (Miracle on 34th Street, 1947) is probably one of the most iconic depictions of the character in modern cinema.

The modern depiction of Santa Clause is of a plump, jolly man in a red suit with a white beard and black boots can be traced back to the 19th century. In 1823, Clement Clarke Moore published, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” also known as “The Night Before Christmas”. In his poem, Clarke introduced many of the elements that we now associate with Santa Claus today. This included the red suit, white beard, and the use of a sleigh and reindeer to deliver gifts. Later, in 1870, cartoonist, Thomas Nast’s illustration of the character further popularized this modern image.

Big Red’s depiction hasn’t only been in stories and illustrations, but in tv shows and movies as well. Directors have taken many liberties with retelling and portraying this mythical figure throughout the years. While many films do portray his traditional characteristics of a jolly and cheerful individual spreading holiday cheer, Santa has also been portrayed as a superhero saving the world while brandishing a sword, or even an antihero possessing many deadly skills and killing bad guys in different ways.

The Conclusion

Conclusively, the origins of Santa Clause personify our romanticizing of what a simple act of kindness can become. Saint Nicholas lived as a humble man dedicated to simple charity. However, his story has continuously echoed throughout time as larger than life.

Updated on December 22, 2022 by Ken Cheng

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