Where does Santa Claus come from?

Santa Claus, as we know him today, has a long history and not only people but also legends, historical incidents, and companies have formed this character.

The origin of the character of Santa Claus goes back to the lengendary bishop Nicholas who lived in Myra in the 4th century which today is a city in Turkey. Saint Nicholas became well-known by being generous to the poor. It is said that he threw gold coins through the window of a poor family's home so that they were able to get their daughters married. So it was Saint Nicholas whom Santa got the quality of gift-giving from.

Monument in honour
of Saint Nicholaus
in the city of Myra

It comes from Germanic legends that Santa Claus punishes naughty children with the knout. Germanic legends also say that at winter solstice the god Wodan, leader of the Wild Hunt, together with Mother Hulda rides through the air to punish people for their bad deeds. In the dim and distant past, people also celebrated yule at the time of the winter solstice. To prevent that pagan custom, a pope placed the Christian Christmas Eve on December 24.


It was in the 19th century when the painter Moritz Schwind gave shape and form to Santa Claus for the first time. Santa was based on the character of the Winter out of the four seasons. The Winter usually appeared as an old man with a long beard. Ever since, Santa Claus has been shown as an old and long-bearded man.

klick here to enlarge

In the middle of the 19th century, another artist influenced the character of Santa Claus. It was the German Thomas Nast, who emigrated to America together with his parents when he was still a little boy. As a young man he became a painter for the parliament and also painted Santa Claus in many different versions. In 1863, a picture of Santa Claus illustrated by Nast appeared in Harper's Weekly; that was during the American Civil War. Little by little, painting Santa became one of the artist's most important themes and the character he painted grew so popular that it still forms the picture of Santa Claus to the present day.

At the beginning of the 20th century there was no standard appearance for Santa Claus. He was shown either in a blue, brown, red or a golden coat. He also varied in size depending on the origin and taste of the narrator or painter who portrayed him either as small as a dwarf or as huge as a giant.

At the beginning of the 1930s the Swedish painter Haddon Sundblom introduced Santa's dress code, which has been valid to this day. In the course of a Christmas advertising campaign of the Coca-Cola Company, Santa Claus was dressed in red-and-white clothing, the brand's colour. Ever since, Santa's suit has been red with white fur trim.

It were European emigrants who took the character "Santa Claus" with them to America and it was America who introduced a new dress-code to Santa and spread it throughout the world.

Coca Cola

Today, with his long beard and his red-and-white suit, Santa Claus has become the most significant character for the Christmas season.

painting by Vladimir Trneny