The jolly and white bearded figure in the red fur coat slipping down the chimney and riding his sleigh is one we are all familiar with, although he has actually only looked like that for little over a century. However, whether you know him as Father Christmas, Santa Claus or St. Nick, he has actually been around for a lot longer than that.
The story of Santa can be traced back to a 4th-century bishop, St. Nicholas, who lived in what is today Turkey. Due to a large inheritance from his parents, he was extremely wealthy for much of his life and chose to share that wealth with the poor. Whether he started the custom of hanging up stockings is not certain, although one story has it that he anonymously left a bag of money in the house of three poor sisters while they were sleeping. In parts of Europe during the Middle Ages, children were given gifts in his memory, usually on December 6, supposedly the day he died.
Saint Nicholas remained an important figure in parts of Europe, especially the Netherlands, where he was known as Sint Nikolaas. Dutch immigrants to America brought the name and the stories with them, and Sint Nikolaas inevitably became St. Nick. However, Christmas celebrations in 18th-century America were very different from today, consisting largely of rowdy and alcohol fueled gatherings. In some areas, such as New England, the celebration was largely ignored.
The name Father Christmas has origins in 16th-century England, where he was generally seen as someone who embodied the good food, revelry and overall spirit of the Christmas period. Father Christmas gradually came to be associated with Christmas Day on December 25, as Protestant England no longer observed St. Nicholas Day or the other saints' days. During the 19th century, he was depicted as wearing a green fur lined coat and spreading good cheer throughout the land.
The Santa image evolves
The image that we have today of Santa Claus can be traced back to several poets, writers and illustrators during the early 19th century who decided that Santa should have a whole new look. An 1809 book by Washington Irving depicted him flying through the sky delivering gifts in a flying wagon, while an 1821 poem by an unknown author added a reindeer pulling the cart. And the following year, a poem by Clement Moore called 'The Night Before Christmas' was published, which helped to create the Santa image we have today - a fat, jolly man in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer.
The merging of Father Christmas and Santa Claus
Some of the earliest drawings of the modern Santa were published in the 1860s and '70s in the American magazine Harper's Weekly. The artist Thomas Nast was commissioned to draw Santa every year for 20 years, and he gradually changed the figure over time, making him fatter and jollier, and adding his distinctive red outfit. The English Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus gradually came to be regarded as the same person.
The modern Santa
By the late 19th century, Santa had acquired most of the trappings that we associate with him today, including a workshop at the North Pole. The introduction of Christmas cards helped to reinforce this image, and the modern image of Santa then spread back to Europe where he was known by different names in different countries; Pere Noel in France, Father Christmas in the UK, and Grandfather Frost in parts of eastern Europe.
Santa may not be real, but you can still visit his workshop at the Arctic Circle in Finland, year round. And of course, millions of excited children all over the world would beg to differ when they wake up on Christmas morning to a full stocking.
Copyright © Henry on NiceAnswers.com 2017
Related Links: Find below further links on topics related to Santa Claus and Christmas;
Information on Saint Nicholas
Information on Thomas Nast the person responsible for the modern image of Santa
More information on Santa Claus
Information on Santa's workshop
Find more Christmas articles in our holiday section
The history of Santa Claus