Would the real Father Christmas please stand up? St. Nicholas, a real guy who died in 342 A.D., was the patron saint of children. “Santa Claus”— St. Nick’s nickname—became associated with various traditions of giving gifts to kids (in shoes, stockings, etc.), eventually centering around the German Christmas tree in the mid 1800s. UNLV history professor Elizabeth White Nelson gives the skinny on the jolly man in red.
How did Santa Claus get tied to the Christian part of Christmas?
Christmas was not widely celebrated before the 19th century as an important Christian holiday; it was a mixture of the Feast of the Nativity, the Roman holiday Saturnalia, the Feast of 12 Nights and Winter Solstice. The Santa Claus celebration of Christmas doesn’t replace the Christ Child celebration—if anything, the popularity of gift-giving and Santa Claus in the first half of the 19th century seems to have increased the visibility of the feast of the nativity, at least in the United States.
What’s with the red outfit?
Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly magazine, invented the red fur-trimmed suit for Santa Claus and the classic Santa look. He began drawing Santa Claus in 1866 for Harper’s in an image called “Santa Claus and His Works.” His images fueled children’s imaginations.
What’s your favorite Santa trivia?
In Nast’s vision he is so short, he has to stand on a chair to reach the mantle. Clement Moore’s elf is small, too. Santa Claus doesn’t become a big man until the 20th century. … I think Santa deserves more credit for keeping the “Christ in Christmas” (as proponents say) than he gets. In Puritan New England, Christmas was outlawed, and in many countries, New Year’s Day was much more important. Without Santa Claus, we probably wouldn’t celebrate Christmas in any major way.