For many Americans, Santa Claus is something we just take for granted. Every year, when December rolls around, countless people go to visit ‘Santa Claus’ – despite the fact that he isn’t a real person. The red and white Santa suit that is worn by this character in shopping malls and other locations is synonymous with the holiday season. But how did this come to be? Where is this tradition from, and when did it get started? Let’s take a closer look.
It’s Goes Way Back
As you certainly are aware, Santa Claus is based on a man named Saint Nicholas. This man was a bishop who is reported to have lived in or around the fourth century in the region that is now the Netherlands. Since bishops traditionally wore red and white robes in those times, the red and white suit became the standard for Santa Claus impersonators everywhere.
But Why Saint Nicholas?
Saint Nicholas was a bishop, but of course, there are been many bishops over time who were not turned into children’s characters for Christmas. So what was it about Saint Nicholas that made him stand out in such a special way? It was his habit of giving to poor children. The story goes that Saint Nicholas would leave coins for poor children in their shoes or stockings. Leaving coins is a long way from the extravagant gifts that many children receive today, but it clearly got things started. Also, the habit of leaving these coins in stockings has carried on in another tradition of hanging stockings over the fire on Christmas Eve.
Moving Across the Pond
It wasn’t until the late 19th century that Santa Claus began to move his way across the Atlantic Ocean and into America. This transition was made possible by Dutch immigrants who brought the stories of their Santa Claus with them when they moved. As typically happens when cultures and traditions come together, the modern American version of Santa Claus gradually developed over time as more and more people put their spin on the story (and the image).
In typical American fashion, it may have been marketing that truly secured the image of a jolly, red-suit wearing Santa Claus in the minds of U.S. citizens. Coca-Cola created an ad in the 1930s which showed Santa enjoying a Coke, and the image stuck. This is generally the depiction of Santa that has been burned in the minds of millions. It would not be accurate to say that Coca-Cola created the image of Santa Claus, but they may be largely responsible for making it so popular.
The history of the Santa Claus suit is not a particularly surprising story. It started many centuries ago, adapted over time as cultures moved and changed, and wound up secured in the pop-culture world by a large corporation. Many modern traditions have evolved along a similar path, and this one just might be the most famous of them all.