Santa Claus is coming to Town

Santa Claus

Santa Claus (Image:

You better watch out

You better not cry

Better not pout

I’m telling you why

Santa Claus is coming to town


The month of December heralds the beginning of the Christmas spirit the world over and the atmosphere during these days is one of camaraderie, love and happiness. Christmas trees find their way into homes and are decorated with beautiful lights, angels, stars and other trinkets. The streets are lit up and the shopping malls announce the best sales of the season. Most shopping malls also have a corner dedicated to a potbellied, red-faced cheerful man dressed in red and white with a flowing white beard, entertaining children with gifts and songs and the legendary Ho … Ho … Ho. Popularly known as Santa Claus, he is the centre of attraction and is a sure fire way of tipping the cash registers in favor of the malls.


Evolution of Santa Claus:

Is Santa Claus a real person? Who was he? When and how did he become the symbolic icon of Christmas? Read on to find out how Santa Claus evolved from being a saint of Myra, to a bishop and finally to the merry, rotund figure dressed in red and who finally became the Santa Claus as we know him today. There are many legends surrounding the evolution of Santa Claus and going by those legends, an attempt has been made to draw up a Santa Timeline.


St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas (Image source: Wikipedia)

280 AD: Born in Patara, Lycia, now called Turkey, St. Nicholas was a Roman Catholic bishop. He lost both his parents early in his life and used his inheritance to serve the poor and the needy. Also known as the gift giver of Myra, his gifts were generally distributed during the night as he did not want anyone to know his true identity.


303 AD:   St. Nicholas resisted the decree by the Roman Emperor, Diocletian, to worship him as a God, so he was imprisoned for five years, where he suffered from cold, hunger and thirst, but never wavered in his beliefs.


343 AD: Believed to have died on December 6th.


450 AD:   After his death he was worshipped as a saint, namely, the patron saint of children, and came to be known as the protector of children and sailors and was associated with gift giving. Churches in Asia Minor and Greece were being named after him.


800 AD: Officially recognized as a saint by the Eastern Catholic Church.


1200 AD: December 6th began to be celebrated as Bishop Nicholas Day in France.


1400 AD: By the end of 1400 he became the third most beloved figure after Jesus and Mary and more than 2000 Chapels and Monasteries were built in his honor.


1700 AD: The Dutch immigrants nicknamed St. Nicholas as Sint Nikolaas which later got modified into Sinter Klaas. At about the same time in America, the name got further transformed into Santa Klass which eventually got transformed into Santa Claus.


1822: Poem written by Clement Moore, titled “An account of the Visit of St. Nicholas”, which paved the way for beginning of the legendary Santa Claus. Based on this poem, Thomas Nast publishes an image of Santa in the Harpers Journal.


1931: Coco Cola campaign promotes Santa Claus wearing a red and white cloak, which helps to complete the image of the modern day Santa.


Santa Claus – The Image:
Thomas Nast's Santa Claus

The Original Santa Claus by Thomas Nast (Image: Wikipedia)

A gaunt and lean man, St. Nicholas is nowhere close to the image we have of Santa Claus today. The credit of the modern day image of Santa goes to Clement Moore, an Episcopal minister who, in 1822 wrote a long poem for his three daughters titled “An account of the Visit of St. Nicholas.” It is believed that he wrote this poem to pass his time while he was travelling back home from Greenwich, on the night of December 2th, 1822. Clement Moore depicted Santa as a jolly and lively person, warm, friendly and plump which was most probably inspired by the plump Dutchman who was riding the sleigh that was his transport back home.


“He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.


His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;”


Based on this poem, Thomas Nast, a German-born American caricaturist and editorial cartoonist, was the first person to publish a drawing in the Harpers Journal and portrayed Santa as a fat elf and it was his vision of Santa Claus that was the foundation for the image of Santa as we see him today.


Frequently Asked Questions:
I. Why does Santa wear red?Santa Claus red dress

When Santa Claus was being depicted initially, he was seen wearing robes of different colors, like blue, green, brown and purple. In the late 1800’s Santa’s outfit got a makeover and he started wearing a red suit. But in 1931, artist Haddon Sundblom depicted Santa in what is his present day outfit and jolly features when he presented a campaign for Coca colaThe red-suited Santa was created as a marketing tool by Coca-Cola; it is a symbol of commercialism.


II. Why do children hang up stockings by the fireside on Christmas Eve?

This tradition of hanging up stockings began in the year 1870. Legend has it that a poor man had three daughters. He was unable to pay for their dowry and so he thought of selling them to servitude. St. Nicholas came to their rescue by dropping gold coins into the stockings which they had hung up to dry by the fireplace.

Another legend goes like this: Once, while coming down the chimney, Santa Claus dropped some gold coins from his bag. Fortunately, there was a pair of stockings hanging to dry by the fireside, so, instead of falling into the grate, the coins landed into the stockings. Since then, children hang out their stockings by the fire place in the hope that Santa will fill them with goodies.


III. What are the names of Santa’s reindeer?

Santa is traditionally seen flying through the sky in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer with a ninth being introduced later. These reindeer were initially introduced by the poet Clement Moore who wrote about them in his poem ‘twas a night before Christmas,’ and which reads;


“……a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer,
with a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick”.


The names of the reindeer were Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blixen and the last reindeer was Rudolph and who became famous in the famous Christmas carol ‘Rudolf the red nosed reindeer…..’


IV. Why does Santa come down a chimney?


“Because it soots him.” (That’s one of Santa’s favorite jokes  … Ho… Ho… Ho…) Well, according to legend, Santa, just like his original, St. Nicholas, likes to visit at night and does not like to announce himself. Also due to the cold weather, with all doors and windows locked, he has no option but to climb down through the chimney!


V. Where does Santa live?

According to legend, Santa Claus lives in the North Pole, along with a number of magical elves and his nine flying reindeer. The elves help him make the toys in his workshop and the reindeer pull his sleigh and take him around the world to the homes of all the children. Those children who have been good get gifts and those who have been naughty are said to be rewarded by a piece of coal in their stockings. However the people of Finland believe that Santa resides in the mountains of Korvatunturi in Lapland Province, Finland.


The Many Names of Santa:

Countries around the world have their own names for Santa according to their tradition and culture. The various names for Santa Claus in different countries are:


  • USA and Canada:           Santa Claus
  • England:                       Father Christmas
  • Dutch:                          Sint Nikolaas or Sinterklaas
  • China:                           Shengdan Laoren
  • France:                         Pere Noel
  • Germany:                      Weihnachtsmann


Fact or fantasy, Santa has become an integral part of Christmas celebrations today, probably even to the extent of diluting the more religious and somber occasion of Christmas, that is the birth of Jesus Christ. Santa has also been guilty of commercializing Christmas, and malls make the best of this occasion by creating separate sections where a live Santa is seen luring children by distributing goodies, and the happy owners of these malls go jingle all the way to the bank with loads of money!