Who invented Santa? Let’s find out through history!
Argue as much as one may, Santa Claus isn’t real. He is a figment of imagination – an invention that first showed up in the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.’
But surprisingly, Santa Claus is said to be descended from Bishop Nicholas of Myra, who flourished in the fourth century. His birth is estimated to have occurred from 250-270 in Lycia, modern-day southern Turkey, and he became Bishop of Myra in 315.
Surprisingly, the Church does not commemorate his birthday on December 6, but on the anniversary of his death. Saint Nicholas was well-known during his lifetime and was said to perform miracles.
His most well-known feat was the resuscitation of three young boys who had been murdered and dumped in a salting tub by a butcher. As a result of this incident, he became known as the patron saint of kids.
Who Invented Santa? – Nicholas, a Saint on the Move.
Saint Nicholas’ remains were moved to Bari, southern Italy, around the end of the 11th century. His cult arose during the Crusades in Northern Europe, notably in Lorraine, where he was made patron saint in the Middle Ages.
He is accredited with one specific miracle: rescuing Nancy, the Duchy of Lorraine’s capital, from Burgundian attackers. Saint-Nicolas-de-Port Basilica, situated around ten kilometers from Nancy, was consecrated to him in the fifteenth century.
Today, the stained-glass portrayal of Nicholas holding a bishop’s cross, and miter may still be admired. Saint Nicholas’s veneration spread well beyond the Duchy, to Poland, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands, where he was known as Sinterklaas.
Saint Nicholas’ devotion was not immune to Europe’s religious revolutions. Nicholas was substituted by ChristKindl in Germany, where the Protestant Reformation headed by monk Martin Luther outlawed saint worship (Christ Child). Even as he was “chased out” from Lutheran Protestant countries, Saint Nicholas was embraced in the Netherlands, regardless its Calvinist majority.
For the first time, Jan Steen’s Feast of Saint Nicholas painting portrays a family enjoying the Feast of Saint Nicholas. A youngster weeps after getting a stick as a gift, while a little child holds a miniature of the bishop saint with the same affection, she would a doll.
When a party of Dutch Calvinists escaping religious persecution set ship for the New World in the 17th century, they brought with them the traditions and achievements of Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas was brought to their new nation by these immigrants, who founded Nieuw Amsterdam (the future New York).
Nevertheless, his Dutch given name was perverted and Americanized to become Santa Claus. By the late eighteenth century, during the Revolution of 1776, Santa Claus had become the emblem of American resistance to the British occupying troops!
Saint Nicholas was “stolen” from this Dutch custom – brought to America by the early Dutch immigrants – for political purposes: as a counterbalance to Christmas, which was celebrated by the English adversary and the British colonial ruler. His newfound celebrity extended across the New World.
Clark Moore in His Poem Invents Santa Claus – Larger-Than-Life Figure
More than a century had elapsed since Washington Irving’s 1809 publication of “A History of New York,” which was humorously recounted by the fictitious historian Dietrich Knickerbocker (Washington Irving’s pen name).
The novel aided in the popularization of Santa Claus and elevated him to a new level of prominence. Washington Irving pioneered the literary shift from Saint Nicholas to Santa Claus by narrating the amusing narrative of New York’s foundation.
Irving’s novel chronicles the adventure of a Dutch crew sailing from Amsterdam to America in the 17th century. Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas in Dutch, is the figurehead of their ship, sheltering them from the storm.
The saint comes in the dreams of a sleeping sailor and expresses a desire to see Dutch immigrants settle on the island of Manna-hata and construct a city (Manhattan). Sinterklaas vows to visit them each year on his flying sleigh and sneak down the chimneys of this newly established city to bring presents to the youngsters in return.
A few years later, in December 1823, Clement Clark Moore, a professor at an Episcopalian seminary in New York, wrote a poem titled “Twas the Night Before Christmas” in The Sentinel, a state newspaper in New York.
He introduced an as-yet-unseen Santa Claus, a cheerful person with bright cheeks: “He had a big face and a little round tummy that shook like a bowl of jelly when he laughed!” He was fat and pudgy, a merry old elf.”
One no longer knows the austere Bishop of Myra in this poem inspired by folk traditions of the German, Dutch, and Norwegian groups living in the United States! The poem was an immediate hit and was instrumental in presenting the collective American imagination to a burly and larger-than-life Santa Claus.
While no mention is made of the color of his attire, this would alter in the second part of the nineteenth century. Meanwhile, in England, where he was renowned as Old Father Christmas, Santa Claus was often clad in green and wore a holly crown over his head, probably likely inspired by the Scandinavian deity Odin. This pagan figure was depicted in a plethora of Victorian pictures. Yes, like it or not, Christmas, Father Christmas, Santa – everything comes from old pagan cultures that are now despised and ridiculed by Christians. Ironical!
Thomas Nast – the American Daumier
Within a short period of time, the figure inspired many American painters. Amongst them was Thomas Nast (1840-1902), a German-born caricaturist and godfather of the American cartoon. He created the Republican elephant and Democratic donkey symbols and popularized the image of Uncle Sam.
Nast would finish the metamorphosis of Nicholas-Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly magazine. Between 1862 and 1886, Nast drew thirty-three illustrations of Santa Claus. During the Civil War, a Nast cartoon from 1862 depicts Nicholas as a peddler dressed in the American flag’s colors; after being featured on the cover of Harper’s Weekly, he became a Unionist hero (anti-slavery Yankees).
Santa Claus became, in President Lincoln’s words, “his best recruiting agent!” Santa Claus seemed heartbroken on the magazine cover as he watched the young troops split with their families and distributed presents to Unionist warriors.
Nast’s style developed with time, and his depictions of Santa Claus grew less austere. He gained weight, acquired a beard, donned fur, and carried a peddler’s bag on his shoulder: he became “a really happy old elf.”
Nast recorded this metamorphosis in his greatest photographs, which often included his own children and his Morristown, New Jersey, family home. And in December 1884, Nast represented Santa chatting on the telephone, a brand-new innovation at the time!
Santa Claus departed the streets of New York in 1885 for the North Pole, a land shrouded in mystery. Several Arctic voyages in the 1840s and 1850s heightened the public’s curiosity in this area. The next year, the writer George Webster resurrected Nast’s notion, pointing out that Santa Claus’ toy factory and residence were covered in the North Pole’s snows for most of the year.
Simultaneously, Louis Prang (1824-1907), who brought Christmas cards to the United States in 1875, contributed to the development of the “cliché” by presenting Santa in a snowy and wintry location, wearing a large coat with a white fur-lined hood, boots, and a cloth bag for presents. Without his miter and cross, the former Bishop Nicholas was virtually unrecognizable as a jovial grandpa with a long white beard.
Coca-Cola Asserts Claim to Be the Owner of Santa Claus
The crimson hue of Santa Claus’s clothing is unknown. In Harper’s Weekly, Nast’s pictures were reproduced in black and white. Nast’s Santa Claus attire was neither red (as Santa Claus of Coca-Cola would later be) nor green (as Saint Nicholas’ attire frequently was), but rather brown with short bristles, as described in Clement Clark Moore’s poem Twas the Night Before Christmas: “He was dressed entirely in fur, from head to foot; And his apparel was all tarnished with ashes and soot.” The poem was also known as A Visit from St. Nicholas.
In 1875, Louis Prang, the inventor of the American Christmas card, published a series of postcards featuring a red-robed Santa Claus. Did he create the red hue of the costume? Most likely not, but he is the one who will be known in history. Coca-Cola chose to expand its appeal to youngsters in 1931.
Haddon Sundblom, a Swedish-born artist, was commissioned by the Atlanta-based corporation to draw a paunchy, smiling Santa Claus clad in red, with rosy cheeks and an elfish appearance. Sundblom took inspiration from American drawings and those of a fellow Swede, Jenny Nyström (1854-1946).
She began publishing postcards portraying Nordic elves in 1881, in keeping with the Saint Nicholas custom. Her paintings continue to be famous in Sweden, where they are reissued annually. Above all, white and red colors of Coca-Cola have influenced the modern costume of Santa Claus.
So, Who Invented Santa?
In short, the Dutch Calvinists, who migrated to the New World and founded Nieuw Amsterdam (now New York), stole Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas in Dutch) from Dutch custom to counterbalance Christmas celebrated by the English adversary who believed in Father Christmas.
Sinterklaas was then subsequently Americanized by the poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,’ in which Santa Claus was first imagined and subsequently modified by many to give the current form.
Interestingly Father Christmas and his European variations are nothing but appropriations of old pagan ideas in which the spirits travelled the sky during midwinter.
The sad part is that most people are ignorant about history and blindly believe in (and teach their children), a bunch of lies and imaginations. Result? The moral compass of children is built on methodological and blatant appropriation, lies & deceits, imaginations, and toys (the elf of the shelf).