Get Into The Holiday Spirit With Lore, History, And Fun Facts Surrounding Santa Claus

Although there are different interpretations of him all over the world, the modern Santa Claus is a legendary figure who brings gifts to the homes of well-behaved children on Christmas Eve. In Western culture, he has become the icon of the Christmas season with his red suit, flying reindeer, and a bag full of presents. Yet, there’s far more to the story of Santa Claus than what we see in popular culture. Take a look into how the legend came to be, what he represents in different cultures, and some fun facts about everyone’s favorite North Pole resident.

Father Christmas And The Yule Goat

Drawing of Father Christmas
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Father Christmas is regarded as one of the earliest personifications of Santa Claus, dating back to the 15th century. Father Christmas is known for bringing joy to all humans during the holiday and throwing massive feasts for everyone to participate in.

The Yule Goat is Father Christmas’ version of a reindeer, and during ancient Slavic times, Yule festivals were thrown to please the gods in hopes of fertility and a good harvest. The Yule Goat used to be depicted carrying offerings of straw and grain, but later versions show it carrying Father Christmas.

The Legend Of Ded Moroz And Snegurochka

People dressed up as  Ded Moroz and Snegurochka
VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP via Getty Images
VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP via Getty Images

Ded Moroz or “Grandfather Frost” is one of the main Russian holiday legends, with roots in Slavic paganism mythology. Along with his granddaughter and helper, known as Snegurochka or “Snow Maiden,” Dez Moroz travels around and give children presents in person on Christmas Eve.

Supposedly, Grandfather Frost and Snow Maiden live in the far north of Russia. They use a horse-drawn carriage called a troika as a means of delivering the presents throughout the many villages in the area.

A 19th-Century Poem Introduced Santa’s Reindeer

Santa with reindeer
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

“A Visit from St. Nicholas” more commonly known as “The Night Before Christmas,” is a poem that was anonymously published in 1823, but was later credited to Clement Moore, who claimed authorship in 1837.

The 56-line poem about Christmas Eve helped popularize many of Santa Claus’s now well-known attributes such as his red nose and cheeks, size, and the style of clothes that he wore. However, one of the most notable contributions the poem gave to the holiday was the “eight tiny reindeer” that guided his sleigh.

Coca-Cola Created The Modern Santa Claus

Coca-Cola ad
Pool BASSIGNAC/REGLAIN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
Pool BASSIGNAC/REGLAIN/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

When Santa Claus first was depicted in pictures, he wore all kinds of different colored robes. However, it wasn’t until the 1800s that it became popular for him to be wearing a red suit. One of the first artists to put him in a red outfit was artist Louis Prang, who presented him in that way in his series of Christmas cards in 1855.

The image of Santa Claus as a jolly old man in a red suit became officially established in American culture in 1931, after Haddon Sundblom drew him that way for an advertisement campaign for Coca-Cola.

The Department Store Santa Is A Hundred-Year-Old Tradition

Little girl talking to Santa
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Taking children to go see a live Santa Claus at the mall or a store is now a longstanding tradition. Back in 1890, Massachusetts businessman James Edgar became the first-recorded department store Santa.

Supposedly, Edgar came up with the idea to dress up as Santa and interact with children as a marketing tool to drive business into his small dry goods store. It worked, and people came from all over to bring their children to meet the “real” Santa Claus and tell him what they wanted for Christmas.

Mrs. Claus Wasn’t Always Around

Couple dressed up as the Claus'
Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images
Gilbert Carrasquillo/Getty Images

Although today, almost everybody is familiar with Mrs. Claus, that wasn’t always the case. The first mention of Santa’s wife can be traced back to the 1849 short story Christmas Legend by James Rees.

After that, the idea that Santa had a wife became a popular story in a variety of publications such as Harper’s Magazine, Yale Literary Magazine, and more. However, the idea of Mrs. Claus became solidified in popular culture after the release of Kathrine Lee Bates’ famous poem, Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride.

It All Started With Saint Nicholas

Icon of St. Nicholas
Ashmolean Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Ashmolean Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Estimated to have lived between 270 and 343, Saint Nicholas was an early Christian bishop in the ancient Greek city of Myra during the time of the Roman Empire. He was the patron saint of many different realms, including the patron saint of children.

Legend says that he was also known for secretly giving gifts to people, and is considered to be the basis of the Santa Claus figure in many different cultures. After his death, he was canonized as the patron saint of children.

La Befana In Italy Is A Woman

Drawing of Bafana
Icas94 / De Agostini Picture Library via Getty Images
Icas94 / De Agostini Picture Library via Getty Images

In Italian folklore, La Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children across Italy on Epiphany Eve, which is the night of January 5th. It is said that she visits all of the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their socks with either candy and presents if they are good or coal if they are bad.

Known as a good housekeeper, she is also believed to sweep the floor of the houses she visits, to symbolize the sweeping away of problems from last year. La Befana is also referred to as the Christmas Witch.

Santa’s Evil Companion

Krampus Festival
JURE MAKOVEC/AFP via Getty Images
JURE MAKOVEC/AFP via Getty Images

In Central European folklore, Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon who, during the Christmas season, severely punishes children that have been bad. In several countries across Europe, he is a companion of Saint Nicholas and his origins are believed to date back to pre-Christian Alpine traditions.

Although descriptions of Krampus vary, he is typically large, has fur, cloven hooves, and the horns of a goat, fangs, and a long, pointed tongue. He is also said to carry a branch that he hits children with and a sack to carry children in to drown, eat, or take to Hell.

Santa Claus Is A Citizen Of Canada

Santa Claus on magazine
Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images
Transcendental Graphics/Getty Images

Although the stories say that Santa Claus lives in the North Pole, in reality, he’s a citizen of Canada. In 2008, the country granted Santa citizenship with the Canada Post giving him the special postal code “H0H0H0.” And that’s not the only place that Father Christmas supposedly lives.

There’s also a town in Alaska called the North Pole which they boast is the “Home of Santa.” The town’s name attracts tourists every year and has a Christmas-themed gift shop with the world’s largest fiberglass Santa Claus statue.

A Connection To The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow

Christmas card
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

One of Santa Claus’ most distinctive characteristics is his red sleigh pulled by reindeer that he uses to deliver gifts to children all over the world. The introduction of Santa’s sleigh into popular culture is credited to the short story writer Washington Irving, who is best known for penning “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

He first mentions the sleigh in his 1812 revisions to A History of New York, where he added a dream sequence in which Saint Nicholas is soaring over trees in a flying wagon. It didn’t take long for the idea to become solidified in American culture.

He Supposedly Lived In Spain For Some Time

Steamboat
Ricardo Hernández/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Ricardo Hernández/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Although it’s said that Santa Claus resides in the North Pole with his wife and elves, apparently, that wasn’t always the case. According to legends from Belgium and the Netherlands, Santa Claus hails from Spain where he is known as Sinterklaas. Before moving to the North Pole and using his reindeer and sleigh to deliver presents, Sinterklaas would travel by steamboat to deliver gifts.

Sinterklaas is also the first version of Santa Claus to have a list of naughty and nice children. Today, Santa and Sinterklaas have become completely separate from each other, with Belgium and the Netherlands celebrating Sinterklaas instead of Santa.

At One Point, Santa Was Banned In The United States

Children rebuked for picking holly
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1655, there was what has been described as a “War on Christmas.” This occurred when the Puritans in English Parliament removed Christmas as a national holiday. When the pilgrims settled in New England, they made the decision to outlaw the holiday entirely in 1659.

Those who were caught celebrating Christmas, especially involving Santa Claus (before he was Santa Claus), were penalized. Christmas didn’t even become a national holiday in the United States until 1870 under President Ulysses S. Grant. After that, Christmas and Santa Claus were deemed suitable to celebrate once again.

The Logistics Of Santa’s Evening

Santa with a sack
swim ink 2/Corbis via Getty Images
swim ink 2/Corbis via Getty Images

If you assume that each house in the world leaves out two cookies and a glass of milk for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, that equates to approximately 374 billion calories, 33,000 tons of sugar, and 151,000 tons of fat in just one evening. Running an eight-minute mile, it would take him over 109,000 years to burn off Christmas Eve night’s worth of treats.

Furthermore, if he delivered two billion presents globally with each present using 31.5 inches of wrapping paper, he would need over 1.6 million miles of wrapping paper. That’s enough to wrap around the world an incredible six times.

He Was Kicked Out Of Forbes’ Fictional 15 List

Santa writing in his book
Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Buyenlarge/Getty Images

The Forbes Fictional 15 list was a list from the business magazine that ranked the top richest fictional characters between 2002 and 2013. To qualify, the candidate must be fictional as well as wealthy. Santa Claus was removed from the list in 2006 when children became furious that he was considered a fictional character.

Fores noted that “We still estimate Claus’s net worth as infinite, but we excluded him from this year’s rankings after being bombarded by letters from outraged children insisting that Claus is real.”

The Evolution Of The Name

Man in Santa Claus training
Hauke-Christian Dittrich/picture alliance via Getty Images
Hauke-Christian Dittrich/picture alliance via Getty Images

Although most people know the man in the red suit and flying on a sleigh as Santa Claus, his name didn’t come out of thin air. When people from the Netherlands immigrated to the colonies in the New World, they also brought along the legend of Sinterklaas, which is Dutch for Saint Nicholas.

By the late 1700s, the story of Sinterklaas had become a popular tradition during the Christmas season. Over time, the name eventually evolved to become Santa Claus.

Santa’s Guiding Reindeer Is Only Around 80 Years Old

Picture of Rudolph leading the sled
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images

Rudolph, classically regarded as the greatest reindeer of all, is around a century younger than the eight other reindeer pulling Santa Claus’ sleigh. In 1939, Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward Department Store, had the idea to write a poem to help bring in more customers during the holiday season.

His poem told the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer whose bright nose helps guide Santa’s sleigh one foggy Christmas Eve. The poem turned out to be a hit, selling more than two million copies, and in 1949, the popular song was written about Rudolph.

There’s A Santa University

Santas in a classroom
Kirsty O’Connor/PA Images via Getty Images
Kirsty O’Connor/PA Images via Getty Images

Being Santa Claus is hard, but pretending to be one can be even harder, considering you have to be convincing and have to interact with a variety of children. In order to ensure that seasonal Santas are the best that they can be, there is a Santa University located in Westminster, Colorado.

The training program takes four days, accepting over 1,000 naturally bearded gentlemen a year so they can learn the groundwork for what it takes to be the jolliest and most convincing Santa Claus around.

You Can Track Him On Christmas Eve

Woman using NORAD Santa Tracker
KAREN BLEIER/AFP via Getty Images
KAREN BLEIER/AFP via Getty Images

Back on Christmas Eve 1948, the United States’ Air Force issued a comment that an “early warning radar net to the north” had detected “one unidentified sleigh, powered by eight reindeer, at 14,000 feet [4,300 meters], heading 180 degrees.”

This “report” was then sent out to the public by the Associated Press for the enjoyment of little children. Although this was supposed to be a one-time thing, it has been a tradition ever since. Today, you can use NORAD’s online Santa Tracker to follow Santa as he visits each country on Christmas Eve.

Why He Gives Coal

Man dressed as Santa Claus with coal
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

It’s been a long-standing tradition that Santa Claus delivers toys and other gifts to the children on his “nice” list, and a lump of coal for those who had been “naughty” that year. However, why he leaves the naughty children coal is no coincidence.

It’s rumored that he does so because it’s convenient for him. He’s going up and down chimneys all of Christmas Eve, and back in the 19th century, coal was a common form of fuel for fireplaces them, so he wouldn’t have to look far.