A brief history of Santa Claus

1 November 2021. By Evie Elf

We all have an image in our head of Santa Claus, with his bushy white beard, friendly eyes, bright red suit and hat adorned with white fur cuffs, not to mention his jolly demeanour. He signifies the start of the festive season and encompasses everything we adore about Christmas, and is beloved by everyone. But what is the history of Santa Claus, and how did he become an icon of Christmastime? And how did he end up here, in Lapland, with his team of trusty elves and reindeer?

In our latest blog post our elves have delved into our Lapland archives to discover the fascinating history of everyone’s favourite festive character. Whether you know him as Kris Kringle, Father Christmas or St Nicholas, the legend of Santa spans the centuries, with stories from across the globe!

Where does Santa Claus come from? 

Believe it or not, Santa Claus didn’t originate in the North Pole. In fact, many years ago his home was somewhat warmer in an area in modern Turkey. A far cry from the snow covered landscapes of Lapland where he lives now! 

Back in the third century (that’s right, Santa is pretty old!), he was known as Saint Nicholas, and was the patron saint of children. St Nick’s legend grew as a result of his kindness and compassion, helping children, the poor and the sick. Before he donned his red suit and used his trusty reindeer and sleigh to travel, St Nick would walk across Turkey helping everyone he could. 

It wasn’t long before St Nick started to travel around the world, in particular Europe. In England, he became associated with gift giving during the Middle Ages, with children receiving presents in December in his honour. He was a symbol of merriment and fun over the festive season – much like he is seen today.

In Holland, his legend continued to develop and he became known as Sinter Klaas. In the UK, he became known as Father Christmas, appearing as far back as the 16th century during the time of Henry VIII. In those days he often wore a green suit instead of red, and he signified the Christmas spirit of joy, merriment and feasting. 

From there, he soon became famous across the pond in New York. He first appears in records in the USA in the 1700s and at this point his name changed to Santa Claus – taken from his Dutch nickname. He was even named the patron saint of New York in 1809 in a book by Washington Irvin, where he was depicted with a sack full of gifts in an illustration.

Experts believe that Santa Claus became really popular in England when he featured in a story by American author, Susanna Warner. In the story he brings lots of gifts to children in England, alongside another figure called Father Christmas. Although by the 1880s Santa Claus and Father Christmas became the same person!

Santa Claus in the Victorian era

Santa Claus continued to grow in popularity as the festivities around Christmas grew throughout the Victorian period. Christmas became a time of children, charity and religion, and Santa Claus ticked all these boxes! 

Throughout the era, many Christmas traditions appeared. This included the German Christmas tree, popularised by Prince Albert and Queen Victoria, the Christmas cracker was invented and Christmas cards started to be sent out across the country.

By the turn of the century, Santa Claus (or Father Christmas as he was known in the UK), was a staple of the festive season for children everywhere.

When did Santa Claus start delivering gifts on Christmas Eve?

Santa Claus became recognisable as the figure he is today in the 1822 poem by Clement Clarke Moore – ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’. After arriving on a sleigh pulled by reindeer, the poem describes how Santa Claus magically arrives down the chimney on Christmas Eve to leave presents for the children – exactly what he does every year on Christmas Eve for almost 200 years! 

Today, Santa Claus makes his long journey across the globe, delivering gifts to millions of children across the globe, still with the help of his trusty reindeer. It’s a big job to get all the presents ready for the big day, so he has hundreds of elves stationed at his workshop in the North Pole who work tirelessly around the clock, every day of the year to ensure that every good boy and girl receives exactly what they want on Christmas morning. Not only this, his wife, Mrs Claus, also helps keep everything in check, ensuring that everything is ready, wrapped and packed in the run up to Christmas Eve.

Wasn’t Santa Claus’ outfit made famous by Coca Cola?

For many people, seeing the Coca Cola advert on TV is a sure sign that Christmas is on its way. But did you know that since 1931, Santa Claus has been the mascot for the popular drinks brand thanks to some illustrations which were created as part of a campaign. In fact, these images of Santa have helped to create the view of Santa we know and love today!

Why do letters from Santa make Christmas even more special?

Here at Santa’s workshop in Lapland, we’ve been working so hard in the run up to Christmas. Part of our job is to ensure that all the good children make it onto the nice list. Santa will take the time to write a letter to the most well behaved boys and girls, with a real letter from Santa arriving through their post box in the weeks leading up to the big day!

Each year, many children receive special letters from Santa in the run up to the big day, letting them know that they have been well behaved and should expect lots of gifts on Christmas morning.

Letters from Santa

Got another question?

Send your questions to one of our lovely Helpdesk helpers who are ready and
waiting to assist you in any way they can.