St. Nicholas, Santa Claus & Father Christmas – History of Santa Claus

Is the legend of Father Christmas/Santa Claus based on a true story?

There is no question that children and families the world over enjoy the holiday of Christmas.

They love the fact that they can hang up stockings and arrange gifts, and they particularly love the legend where an individual named St. Nicholas or “Santa Claus” will give them gifts under the tree and in these stockings.

Of course, most adults think it is just a nice story to share with their children.

But have you ever wondered about where all of these traditions originated? Have you ever wondered if there was a Santa Claus?

Indeed, there actually was, and here is some more information about the real man who became known as St. Nicholas or Santa Claus:

The Man Behind Father Christmas/Santa Claus

St. Nicholas was known as the Bishop of Myrna in a region called Asia Minor, now known as Turkey today. St. Nicholas was not just a preacher, but also a very wealthy man because he received a large inheritance after his parents died when he was a small child.

He was a very kind and generous individual, and he became well-known throughout the region for giving people anonymous gifts.

The poor and others in need held him in very high regard. Indeed, there are so many stories and legends about St. Nicholas that it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Perhaps the most interesting story regarding St. Nicholas would have to be concerning how the stocking tradition of Christmas has originated.

It seems there was this very poor parishioner in one of St. Nicholas’s churches.

Daughters of Poor Parishioner

He had three very lovely daughters, and they wanted to get married.

However, even though they had several suitors, the man could not afford to give his daughters in marriage because he could not afford to pay the groom’s family the needed dowry.

(NOTE: a dowry is a sum of the money that the parents of the bride give to the family of the groom. Even today, this is still practiced in some areas of the world)

When Nicholas heard about this man’s plight, he was very upset about it indeed.

The more he thought about it, the more he wanted to do something for the man.

Nicholas decided to put a bag of gold down the man’s chimney, and it incidentally went into some stocking that the man had dried over the fire.

This allowed the man’s oldest daughter the ability to get married, and the man was very happy.

A couple of nights later, another bag of gold came down the chimney, allowing the second daughter to be able to get married.

The man became curious about who was doing this, so he waited constantly by the chimney to try to find out who it was.

When he caught St. Nicholas doing it, the bishop begged him not to tell anyone because he didn’t want any attention drawn to himself.

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However, the word did spread, and from then on any time someone received an unexpected gift from a secret benefactor they presumed it came from St. Nicholas.

Saint Nicholas’ Generosity

The kindness of Nicholas soon became legendary throughout the area, and he eventually was made a saint because of his kindness.

Of course, everyone knows that St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, but what many individuals do not know is that Nicholas is also the patron saint for sailors.

There was a report of sailors being stuck out in the sea with the waves crashing about all around them.

The sailors prayed to St. Nicholas to save them, and suddenly he was right there in their presence.

He ordered the waves to be still and the storm subsided and the ship was able to come safely back into the port.

They exiled St. Nicholas from Myra and he was later arrested and placed in prison during the heavy Christian persecution of Roman Emperor Diocletian. St. Nicholas either died in 345 or 352 and his bones were interred in Turkey.

However, his remains were later stolen by some Italian merchant sailors in 1087. They took his remains to the Italian port city of Bari and that is where he has remained ever since.

To this day, Italians still have a ceremony where they carry the statue of St. Nicholas from a cathedral named after him to the sea, where it is said that he will continue to bless the waves.

Finally, another notable incident regarding St. Nicholas occurred when William the Conqueror prayed to the saint to receive good favor for the conquest he was about to embark on.

Of course, the St. Nicholas Center has many other interesting facts regarding this influential ancient individual.

The Story of St. Nicholas Becoming Santa Claus

At the dawn of the 16th Century, most of the old stories and traditions regarding St. Nicholas ended up becoming unpopular.

However, the Christmas holiday was still as popular as ever, so the old legends of St. Nicholas returned in a revised fashion.

Instead, he became referred to as either “Father Christmas” or “Old Man Christmas.”

Naturally, this wasn’t entirely based on St. Nicholas, however.

Old plays that were popularized in the Middle Ages throughout the UK and Northern Europe made the Santa Claus character we all know and love today.

Along these same lines, this character was actually referred to as “Pere Noel.”

On the other hand, this legendary present-giver became known as the “Christking” is areas such as Austria and Germany.

This caricature could be best described as appearing as a winged toddler-like child with wings, and it symbolized the Christ Child.

However, this Christmas figure was being portrayed differently in the early United States.

In the 1600s, 1700s, and early 1800s, he was known as “Kris Kringle”, and this too is a sort of off-shoot description for Christ.

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Dutch settlers first called this character “Sinter Klaas” and this gradually became known as the “Santa Claus” figure of this day and age.

Another interesting fact would have to be that many countries throughout the world actually celebrate what we know as “Christmas” or “St. Nicholas Day” on December 6th.

Kids in these countries like to leave their shoes or other footwear out on the evening of the 5th and then it will be filled with gifts and sweets on the morning of the 6th.

Some kids also like to leave hay, carrots and other vegetables for Sinterklaas’ reindeer in exchange for getting some extra sweets or more presents.

After some of the writers, artists, and poets of the Victorian era discovered the old stories, they became popular yet again. 

Santa Claus Celebrates

1823 was a particularly notable year for Christmas poems as “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or “T’Was the Night before Christmas” came out.

Although it originally was believed to have been written by Dr. Clement Clarke Moore as something for his children to enjoy, some scholars now dispute that and believe that Henry Livington, Jr., a distant relative of Moore’s wife.

Either way, it has been a poem that has delighted children for nearly two centuries now. In this poem, St. Nicholas is depicted as having eight reindeer, and it gives the names of all of the reindeer.

Of course, the reindeer would remain a bit of a footnote until 1949 when the song “Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer” was published.

If you know all eight names of the reindeer you are truly one special Christmas expert!

Here are some extra interesting facts regarding Santa Claus:

  1. Interestingly enough, Santa’s reindeer could all be female. This is because it is only female reindeer who keep their antlers during the winter months.
  2. Although most people believe that Santa Claus resides at the North Pole, in Finland they believe he lives in the northern area of their country in a place called Lapland.
  3. Either way, everyone agrees that Santa Claus flies through the air with a sled being pulled by his reindeer and that he comes down the chimney and leaves presents for all of the children either at the Christmas tree or by a fireplace.
  4. The largest Christmas stocking measured 51m 35cm (168ft 5.65in) long and 21m 63cm (70ft 11.57in) and was crafted by a volunteer emergency first responders organization in the Carrara region of Tuscany in Italy.

Is Santa Claus and Coca-Cola Story True?

Believe it or not, there are actually quite a few urban legends surrounding Santa Claus too. One of the earliest ones stems from a little popular drink called Coca-Cola.

Some claim that the manufacturers of this drink are actually the first ones to design Santa Claus’s signature red suit. This isn’t necessarily true.

What actually happened is that Thomas Nast published an illustration of Santa Claus in Harper’s Weekly in 1863 where Jolly old St. Nick was originally wearing a Stars and Stripes design!

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Thomas Nast drew his cartoon of Santa Claus for the next 20 years and the design continues to evolve from there.

Santa Claus and Coca-Cola

Indeed, one of the most popular drawings of Santa Claus in Harper’s Weekly would have to be in the January 1881 edition where he was depicted as having a large red-belly, an arm full of toys and smoking his pipe.

This image of Santa continued to grow in popularity from 1900 to 1930.

Coke used Santa in their first advertisements in the 1920s and the famous image of Santa holding a Coke was first published in 1931 and it was sketched by artist Haddon Sundblom.

His main idea was to make Santa Claus seem more jolly, so that is one of the main reasons why he replaced the pipe with a bottle of Coke instead.

Even with the “Coke Santa” ads, Coke wasn’t done with their Christmas promotions.

They capped it off by introducing their “The Holidays are Coming” ads, which featured a giant “Coca Cola Christmas Truck.”

Even though this was done in 1995, young and young at heart everywhere always get a smile on their face when thinking about these unique Santa Claus advertisements and this folklore!

Learn More With the Help of Video

Main Points About History of Santa Claus

  1. Santa Claus dates as far back as the 3rd or 4th century. He is linked to Saint Nicholas of Myra who is famous for his generous gifts to the poor.
  2. Santa Claus is known by different names all over the world; Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas or Kris Kringle.
  3. He is a mythical character/figure that originated from Western culture. He is a gift bearer for children at Christmas.
  4. He is described as a white plump, jolly, white-bearded man who wears red and white furry clothes with a black belt and shoes. Sometimes, he wears spectacles.
  5. Santa Claus is often depicted carrying a sack of presents from the North Pole, flying his reindeer who pull his sleigh.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About History of Santa Claus


280 A.D in what is now known as Turkey, a monk named St. Nicholas was born. Many knew him for his kindness, and as he got more popular, he became a protector of sailors and children.

He remained popular, especially in the Netherlands, but it was at the end of the 18th century he became part of American culture.

Dutch families had gathered to him on December 6th and ”Santa Claus” evolved from Dutch nickname ”Sinterklaas”.

Word Cloud for History of Santa Claus

The following is a collection of the most used terms in this article on the History of Santa Claus. This should help in recalling related terms as used in this article at a later stage for you.