Merry Kitschmas

vintage & retro Christmas collecting

The origins of Santa Claus and his companions

Santa Claus origins for Christmas
When most people think of Santa Claus, they envision a fat white-bearded man in a fur-trimmed red velvet suit and hat. Santa Claus is the kindly old gentleman who has a sack of toys for good children.

However, Santa Claus was not always the jolly old elf in red and white created by Coca-Cola, or even the chubby fellow with reindeer and toys depicted in the 1823 poem The Night Before Christmas.

His origins date back to pre-Christian Europe in such figures as Odin the All-Father and Jólasveinarnir (the 'Yule Lads'). The earliest versions of the figure we now know as Santa Claus, if appearing in human form, would look something like a wizard in robes and bearing a staff.

The predecessors of Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas of Myra

About Saint Nicholas

St Nicholas The figure, attributes, and even name of the modern Santa Claus are derived from the historical figure of Saint Nicholas of Myra (in Asia Minor), a fourth-century bishop known for his charitable works. He was born to wealthy parents, and was a generous individual who gave large sums to those in need.

He is the patron saint of children, sailors, merchants, and repentant thieves. His feast day is 06 December.

His relics are said to be housed below the Church of St Nicholas in his episcopal town of Demre in modern-day Turkey.

Attributes of Saint Nicholas

He is commonly depicted with a mantle over his shoulder, and he carries a Gospel Book and three golden objects.

Santa Claus around the world

Old World Santa costume

The companions of Santa Claus

Further reading

Santa Claus origins for Christmas When Santa Was a Shaman by Tony van Renterghem (Llewellyn Publications, 1995): A thought-provoking look at the origins of the figure we know as Santa Claus and the associated holiday traditions. This covers the main themes such as traditional decorations for a Midwinter Festival of Lights from pre-history to the modern era.

Some of the connections made by the author may be a bit speculative, but I find this an interesting read.

This book can be difficult to find since it is out of print. Some great places to buy used books online include:

The Mermaid's Spell