The figure of Father Christmas (Santa Claus) is based on Saint Nicholas, who became one of the youngest bishops ever at age 17. At age 30 he became
the Bishop of Myra, a port town on the Mediterranean Sea, that is part of modern-day Turkey. He hailed from a rich home and became well known for
supporting the needy. He would often be seen, clad in red and white bishop's robes and riding on a donkey, handing out gifts to children.
During the Middle Ages, many churches were built in honour of Saint Nicholas. In the 11th century, his remains were enshrined in a church in the
Italian city of Bari. It is told that the first Crusaders visited Bari and carried stories about Nicholas to their homelands. The anniversary of his
death, 6 December, became a day to exchange gifts.
During the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, Martin Luther tried to stop the venerating of saints and the feast of Saint Nicholas was
abolished in some European countries. The gift giver took on other names: in Germany, he became Der Weinachtsmann ("Christmas Man"), PËre NoÎl in
France, Father Christmas in Britain and the colonies, and many other names. The Father Christmas (Santa Claus) figure is based on Saint Nicholas (270
- 310AD), the patron saint of children.
Santa Claus in New York
The Dutch, under Peter Stuyvesant, founded New York - named New Amsterdam under the Dutch and renamed when the British took over the colony - and
brought with them the celebrations of Sinterklaas, the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas. Santa Claus is the American pronunciation of Sinter Klaas. The
Dutch preserved the custom of Saint Nicholas Day, 6 December, and Dutch children still await the visit of Sinter Klaas (Saint Nicholas).
As early as 1773 "St. A. Claus" was mentioned in the American press. In 1809, Washington Irving (the author of "Tales from Sleepy Hollow") wrote
about Sinterklaas in his "A History of New York." Irving described Sinterklaas as a rotund little man in a typical Dutch costume, with knee breeches
and a broad-brimmed hat, who travelled on horseback on the Eve of Saint Nicholas. In 1822, Clement Clark Moore, a poet and professor of theology,
published the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (also known as "The Night Before Christmas"). Moore's Santa is a jolly old elf who flies around in
a miniature sleigh with eight tiny reindeer. Moore even named the reindeer by the names we know them today, and the method by which Santa returns up
Thomas Nast, the illustrator and caricaturist who created the donkey and elephant images to depict the US Democratic and Republican parties,
contributed his own vision of Santa for Harper's Weekly magazine from 1860 until the late 1880s. Nast depicted Santa in a red, fur-trimmed suit and a
wide leather belt. Each year he added more details to his version of the Santa legend, including the home-workshop at the North Pole and the Naughty &
Nice list. Saint Nicholas became Sinterklaas for the Dutch. The American pronounced it Santa Claus. In Britain and the commonwealth, he is Father
Christmas (or Father Christmas).
Santa Claus in the North Pole
In 1885, Nast sketched two children looking at a map of the world and tracing Santa's journey from the North Pole to the United States. The following
year, the American writer, George P. Webster, took up this idea, explaining that Santa's toy factory and "his house, during the long summer months,
was hidden in the ice and snow of the North Pole." There are more than 2,700 languages in the world, with more than 7,000 dialects. Santa speaks all
of them fluently! In addition, he speaks a secret elf language.
In 1931 Haddon Sundblom presented Santa as a plump human rather than an elf, with a jovial face and big beard in a Coca-Cola advertisement. (Coca-Cola
was a client of Sundblom's advertising agency from 1924 to until his death in 1976.) Today, it is Sundblom's Santa that slips down chimneys around
Santa's address discovered
In 1925, it was discovered that there are no reindeer at the North Pole. There are, however, lots of reindeer in Lapland, Finland. In 1927, the great
secret of Santa's address was revealed by Markus Rautio ("Uncle Markus") who compered the popular "Children's hour" on Finnish public radio. He
declared that Father Christmas lives on Lapland's Korvatunturi Mountain.
Korvatunturi - literally "Mount Ear" is in the Savukoski county, Lapland, Finland, on the Finnish-Russian border. At 500 m (1,640 ft) high, it
actually is only a big hill. But its three summits points to the answer the children of the world had been asking for years: "Yes, there really is a
Father Christmas (Santa Claus)." And his official Post Office is in the town of Napapiiri, near Rovaniemi, near the Korvatunturi mountain. The
mountain itself is out of bounds to people. The figure of Father Christmas (Santa Claus) that we know today was introduced by artist Haddon Sundblom
in advertisements for the Coca-Cola Company. In affect, the Coca-Cola Company has, over the decades, brought joy to millions of children around the
world. A truly remarkable feat.