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The Origin of Santa Claus [Infographic]

Is that you? Santa Claus?

Who is Santa Claus? Where did his story begin? Why does he have so many different names? As a company that specializes in online education, we felt it was our duty to learn and share.

Below, you’ll find a more detailed timeline of some additional Santa-related events. Do you have more to add to the story? What are your Christmas traditions? We’d love to hear in our comments below.

The Santa Timeline

Year Event
1 Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, and the gift-giving began as a remembrance of the 3 wise kings who came from the east to give gifts to the Christ child. To this day, many Catholic countries celebrate 3 Kings Day in the beginning of January as their primary gift-giving day.
280 Saint Nicholas is born. He did not live in North Pole, but was a Greek bishop in present-day Turkey. He was known for many miracles and for his generosity, particularly to children. In one story, he visited a poor man at night, and anonymously threw 3 purses of gold in his window.
900 Catholic church canonizes Saint Nicholas (he becomes an official Saint). Over the years he had become the symbolic “gift giver” of winter celebrations.
1600s After the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther’s followers declared that Saint Nicholas was detracting from the true meaning of Christmas. They soon adopted their own “gift-giving” figure called the Kristkindt (Christ Child), an angelic child who went from house to house quizzing kids on their bible knowledge. Fun, huh? Mothers declared that the Kristkindt was too young to travel alone, so they brought back Saint Nicholas.
1600s Dutch Immigrants brought with them the legend of Sinterklaas, a figure who rides the roof tops upon a white horse, has a long beard, and visits houses with his mischevious black-faced helpers. Children would place boots filled with carrots or sugar (treats for the horse) near the chimney.
1770s After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870
1809 in his book “A History of New York,” Washington Irving wrote about Saint Nicholas riding into town on a horse. 3 years later, he revised the book to include Nicholas riding over the trees in a wagon.
1822 Clement Clarke Moore writes “The Night Before Christmas” in which Saint Nick is portrayed as an elf with a miniature sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer.
1860 From the 1860s through the 1890s, reknowned illustrator Thomas Nast created Santa images for Harper’s Magazine. He also created posters of Santa sitting with Union soldiers during the Civil War, which demoralized the Confederate army.
1920s The image of Santa has been standardized to what we still picture today — a bearded, overweight, jolly man dressed in a red suit.
1931 Haddon Sundblom illustrated a series of Santa images to advertise Coca-Cola. Coke Christmas ads continue to this day.
1939 Writer Robert L. May created a poem about Rudolph, the ninth reindeer, who was teased by the other reindeer because of his slight build and shiny nose. 10 years later Johnny Marks wrote the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which became one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time.
The Origin of Santa Claus [Infographic]

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  • jessicalm

    Inforgraphic and organization! :D

    I didn’t know about the elves (aka devils) that punish children.
    My teachers failed as teachers in elementary school by not sharing this vital information with me -__- hahahaha

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1547152674 Ryan Castro

    I love me some infographics.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1241472028 Jerrilyn Casto

    It is is nice to see how the name has changed, but it is always been shown as the art of giving to children.  

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  • Emily

    Oh, gees. Well, I think it’s fantastic and fun – just as it’s meant to be. All of our traditions have been twisted, so complete truths on anything we do these days is going to be practically impossible to come by. With that said, great job! I really enjoy this.

  • nomadone

    Well, you’ve obviously based this only on information from very limited christian sources. The concepts found in today’s version of xmas existed before jesus and were not part of christianity but very much a part of roman pagan religion which was later absorbed into christianity when constantine the roman empire merged his pagan empire with the trinitarian version of christianity.

    Study the influence on Constantine and your infographic is gonna need a couple of extra screens

  • Sharon

    Even so, in The Netherlands and Belgium “Sinterklaas” is still a tradition and rules more than ‘santa claus’ (Kerstman) The little black devils don’t excist anymore, now we have ‘black peters’ (zwarte pieten). They help Sinterklaas with the gifts. On Dec. 5th we celebrate him, sometimes the 6th. The black peters aren’t, like they sometimes say, black because they are africans, but because of the chimney’s.

    So, now you know that in The Netherlands and Belgium Sinterklaas is still placed above Santa Claus.

    • Joseph

      @Sharon, Thanks for the comments. I had heard about the Black Petes in my research, but wasn’t sure how much they were still used. I have also heard “Cinder Claus” because of the chimneys. Does that have any bearing in Netherlands?

      @Nomadone, You’re right. There are many traditions pulled from Winter Solstice celebrations, and many parallels between the Norse God “Odin” and Santa Claus. We may release an updated graphic next Christmas.

      @Emily, Thanks! Glad you liked it. Pass it on to your friends. Merry Christmas!

  • Jason

    Well, just to be pedantic, he was born in 0 ad….

  • John

    ??? You put year 1, celebrate Christ’s birth….are you kidding me? It wasn’t until the 4th century that people celebrated on Dec 25th and even then there is no evidence he was born on this day. I understand this is a Santa Claus article and not one about Jesus, but still!

    • Joseph

      @John,

      I didn’t mean to say Christmas was celebrated in 1 a.d., just that is when we recognize that Christ was born, so it plays an important role in the Christmas timeline. Settle down.

  • Ruth Ann

    Joseph, you continue to amaze me! You should be an artist or designer when you grow up! Is it fair for you to be so talented?

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