Evolution of Santa Claus

For this project, we had to pick an idea or an object and research how it had evolved and changed as it went around the world. I chose the idea of Santa Claus, and how it varied throughout the world.


In 300 A.D.,  the Roman Empire took command of Turkey.  It was also around that time that the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, thus causing Turkey to become Christian because of their rulers.

 Historically, Saint Nicholas was a bishop who lived in Turkey around 300 A.D..   As an infant, he lost his parents and lived a poor life with his Uncle.  When he was old enough, he inherited his Uncle’s wealth.  He used that money to help the poor and needy.

 He was known ironically for secret gift giving.  He would leave coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him. They would leave them out on December 6 or December 19, which were his days.  They varied upon whether you were a Western Christian or an Eastern Christian. Saint Nicholas died on December 6th of 343 A.D..   Even though dead, his reputation evolved within faithful Christians.

While under rule of the Romans, their empire was split into four parts due to the fact that the whole empire was too much to rule alone.  One of the four rulers was anti-christian and brought much hatred to the Christians.  I imagine this would be an obstacle for the idea of Saint Nicholas to evolve and move because Christians were the only ones who carried this idea.  After this, the Romans took over Europe, including Britain, thus taking “Father Christmas”, a new version of Saint Nick, with them.

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Father Christmas was the name of the British Saint Nick.  According to research, he evolved to Britain around 1400 A.D..  He likewise came when the romans took over.  Some of his other titles were “Old Father Christmas”, “Sir Christmas”, or “Old Winter”.  As you already know, many current versions of Saint Nick, perhaps as well as older ones, go from home to home with their sleigh and reindeer, coming down chimneys and giving gifts.  What he did in Britain was unique.  He would simply wander from house to house on foot, feasting on a meal with each family and then moving on.  From what I found, there were no gifts.

Nowadays, the image between Britain and America is almost exactly the same.  However,  the image of Father Christmas was completely different than it is now.  He was described as a large man with a red beard and a green fur lined robe.  Many other old variations have robes that are scarlet, blue, red, and purple. He was not yet being described as the fat, tubby man yet because he had not yet evolved to America. :-)

Father Christmas was known for being shy.  Some would also describe this trait as humble.  He was extremely kind to children, as he always favored them.  Some people do not know that the British Father Christmas was a mixture of the god Odin and Father Christmas.  Part of this was due to the fact that Odin was typically portrayed with a long white beard and hair.  With this mixture came the ability to know who had been bad or good.  


Germany is the third country that I chose for the evolution of Santa Claus. Rather than “Father Christmas” or “Santa Claus” there was still the original name of Saint Nicholas.  

The idea of Saint Nicholas began to be included in German folklore and stories around the time of the early 1600’s.  This idea of Santa Claus was different than Britain in the sense that instead of wandering around from door to door for the family feasts,  he now gives gifts and sweets to all the good children.

On the contrary, there was also a creature in Germanic mythology called Krampus. He was a anthropomorphic creature, which means animal like with human characteristics.  He was the one who took care of Saint Nicholas’ naughty list.  Saint Nicholas would not put coal in the stockings,  but only do the pleasant,  good things.  Krampus would dispense punishment to all the children who had strayed from the path of good.  

The appearance of Krampus is quite a frightening one.  He has two very long goat horns protruding from his head.  He has long fur all over his body that is typically black or brown. He has pointy ears,  as well as enormous pointy teeth that sit in front of his lolling tongue.  There are a few different variations of his feet. I found two. The first is just two cloven goats hooves. The second portrays him with one human foot and one cloven goats hoof.  


In the Netherlands,  our Santa Claus is known as Sinterklaas.  Other names can include “De Sint” meaning “The Saint” or “De Goedheiligman” meaning “Holy Man”.  Sinterklaas is celebrated on a yearly basis like most other countries. He comes and gives gifts and candy on the day before Saint Nicholas day,  which is held on December sixth. In similarity to the German tales,  the Dutch also have an assistant to Sinterklaas that takes care of all the naughty children. However,  there is much controversy upon whether they should continue to use him as a cultural symbol due to racial issues.  This helpers name is “Black Peter” in english and “Zwarte Piet” in the language of Dutch.  He fulfills the same role as Krampus.  His appearance is of a white european man wearing black paint with red lipstick and an outfit that is seemingly like a British or American 1800’s common attire.  He is also supposedly from Spain.

Sinterklaas himself has a completely different look from any of the countries that I have ever seen.  He wears a white tunic underneath of a red robe. He also wears a pope’s hat.  He also is not the fat, roly poly man that we know in America and other countries.

Sinterklaas comes from Spain to the Netherlands on a steamer ship, then goes around delivering the gifts on a white horse. In order for Sinterklaas to come to your house, you need to sing a song in front of your chimney or backdoor before you go to bed on the evening of December sixth.

North america

And at last,  we move on to the version of Saint Nicholas that we all know and love so well.  The idea of Santa Claus was brought by Dutch immigrants to New York in the 1800’s.  In America, Saint Nicholas is known as Santa Claus.  Traditionally, he goes from home to home on Christmas Eve. He delivers presents to all the good children. In all of the good childrens stockings, he leaves treats and stocking stuffers. In all of the bad childrens stockings, he leaves coal.  

The way that he goes from home to home that night is by riding a flying sleigh pulled by the reindeer. He owns nine reindeer. Their names are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen, and Rudolph.  Santa Claus received his image from a man named Clement Clark Moore.  This man wrote a poem now known as “The Night Before Christmas” that was meant to draw people into his store. The poem portrays him as a merry little fat man, with rosy red cheeks and a cherry nose with a pipe in his mouth.

In 1990,  a man named Richard Waller wrote an article in a magazine that calculated the logistics of Santa’s work.  He included things like speed, number of Christian households in the world, and weight of the sleigh. He claimed that Santa is impossible. This stirred things up amongst many people, and they responded to the article saying that if done correctly, Santa could fly with the turn of the globe to make his night last longer. They also debated that he could make many trips back to the North Pole throughout the night to make his load considerably lighter. I found this article very interesting in the sense that it shows history in America.