header photo


- Santa Claus belongs to childhood;
- St. Nicholas models for all of life.

- Santa Claus, as we know him, developed to boost Christmas sales—the commercial Christmas message;
- St. Nicholas told the story of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all—the hope-filled Christmas message.

- Santa Claus encourages consumption;
- St. Nicholas encourages compassion.

- Santa Claus appears each year to be seen and heard for a short time;
- St. Nicholas is part of the communion of saints, surrounding us always with prayer and example.

- Santa Claus flies through the air—from the North Pole;
- St. Nicholas walked the earth—caring for those in need.

- Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem;
- St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem.

- Santa Claus isn't bad;
- St. Nicholas is just better.

J. Rosenthal & C. Myers

Who was Saint Nicholas

Image from the St. Nicholas Center

St. Nicholas was a Bishop who lived in the fourth century, in a place called Myra in Asia Minor (now Turkey). Nicholas was born in Patara, a coastal town in the Lycia region of southwest Asia Minor. When he was eighteen his wealthy parents died of an epidemic, and after the pious Nichols asked God what to do with the fortune, he decided to secretly give it away. He was also very kind man and had a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it. 

The most famous story about St. Nicholas tells how the custom of hanging up stockings to put presents in first started! It goes like this:

"There was a poor man who had three daughters. The man was so poor that he did not have enough money for a dowry, so his daughters couldn't get married. (A dowry is a sum of money paid to the bridegroom by the bride's parents on the wedding day. This still happens in some countries, even today.) One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house (this meant that the oldest daughter was then able to be married). The bag fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry! This was repeated later with the second daughter. Finally, determined to discover the person who had given him the money, the father secretly hid by the fire every evening until he caught Nicholas dropping in a bag of gold. Nicholas begged the man to not tell anyone what he had done, because he did not want to bring attention to himself. But soon the news got out and when anyone received a secret gift, it was thought that maybe it was from Nicholas."

Nicholas was trained by his uncle and became a priest. When the bishop on Myra died, Nicholas journeyed the twenty miles from his hometown of Patara to pay his respects. Unbeknownst to him, neighboring bishops had gathered in the church at Myra to elect and consecrate a new bishop. Candidates for the position were not exactly plentiful: the Church was still being persecuted by the Roman Empire, and bishops could expect imprisonment, torture, or execution.  In desperation, the bishops agreed to elect the first man who walked into the church that day. When Nicholas crossed the threshold, a bishop asked him, "Son, what is your name?" "Sire," he replied, "I am the sinner Nicholas, a servant of Your Excellency." Nicholas's humility astonished all who heard him, and the bishop said, "Son, come with me." They consecrated him a bishop then and there. It was rare for someone to be made a bishop so young, as Nicholas was between thirty and thirty-five years old. Nicholas barely had time to settle inot his new job before he was arrested, imprisoned, and tortured. 

St. Nicholas is not only the saint of children but also of sailors! One story tells of him helping some sailors that were caught in a bad storm off the coast of Turkey. The storm was raging around them and all the men were terrified that their ship would sink beneath the giant waves. They prayed to St. Nicholas to help them. Suddenly, he was standing on the deck before them. He ordered the sea to be calm, the storm died away, and they were able to sail their ship safely to port.

St. Nicholas was exiled from Myra and later put in prison during the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian but he was released in the time of the later Emperor Constantine, who was a Christian. St Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 (where things about Christianity were discussed). At Nicaea, Arius the Alexandrian priest took the floor and went on and on about how Jesus Christ was not part of the trinity and did not have the same nature as God the Father. Arius taught that God the Father and God the Son did not exist together eternally. Arius taught that pre-incarnate Jesus was a divine being created by (and possibly inferior to) God the Father at some point, before which the Son did not exist. Nicholas unable to bear Arius's heretical prattling any longer, walked up to him and slapped him. The story goes on to assert that Nicholas was imprisoned for striking Arius. This meeting in Nicaea was an important gathering. It was convened by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 325 A.D., and this was the first ecumenical council of the early Christian Church. It produced the first uniform Christian doctrine which we still use today called the Nicene Creed. 

Nicholas's early biographers describe him as expelling many demons by destroying pagan shrines and groves.

No one is really knows when St Nicholas died, it was on 6th December in either 343 (which seems to be the most probable), 345 or 352. In 1087, his bones were stolen from Turkey by some Italian merchant sailors. The bones are now kept in the Church named after him in the Italian port of Bari. On St. Nicholas feast day (6th December), the sailors of Bari still carry his statue from the Cathedral out to sea, so that he can bless the waters and so give them safe voyages throughout the year.

in 1066, before he set sail to England, William the Conqueror prayed to St. Nicholas asking that his conquest would go well. Nicholas became the patron saint of so many including...the poor, prostitutes, brides, newlyweds, bankers, merchants, pawnbrokers, sailors, fishermen, longshoremen, maritime pilots, travelers, pilgrims, gift giving and so much more. 


How Saint Nicholas Became Santa Claus


In the 16th Century in northern Europe, after the reformation, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas became unpopular.

But someone had to deliver presents to children at Christmas, so in the UK, particularly in England, he became 'St Christmas', 'Father Christmas' or 'Old Man Christmas', an old character from story plays during the middle ages in the UK and parts of northern Europe. In France, he was then known as 'Père Nöel'.

In some countries including parts of Austria and Germany, the present giver became the 'Christkind' or 'Christkindl' a golden-haired baby, with wings, who symbolizes the new born baby Jesus.

Countries such as Croatia consider Santa Claus to be more of a grandfatherly figure than a father figure, and thus have given him the name of Grandfather Christmas.

Bulgaria sort of borrowed their version of Santa from the Russians, called him Grandfather Christmas and dressed him nearly identically.


Finland and Scandinavian countries are more partial to the Yule Goat. The Yule Goat rides from house to house delivering all kinds of cherished gifts while in turn hoping for a nibble of porridge to keep him warm and energized for his very busy night.

Lichtenstein and Austria refer to the Santa figure as ChristKind. ChristKind is a moderate blend of a religious entity and the more traditional understanding of Santa Claus.

Italy has the entire family involved. Most recognize Babbo Natale as being Father Christmas, but the gifts are delivered by a woman who rides a broom instead of a sleigh, although she is not considered a witch. She is called La Befana and she fills the traditional Western impression of Santa Claus from upon her broomstick.

Asian countries, outlying islands, even most Middle Eastern countries have some version of Santa Claus. While he may not be quite the same figure as Americans recognize, sometimes delivering gifts as early as December 5th, the notion is all the same.

The only country that doesn’t recognize Santa Claus in one fashion or another is of course Israel, where most of the population is primarily Jewish and there is no Santa Claus that related to Jewish tradition.

In the early USA his name was 'Kris Kringle' (from the Christkindl). Later, Dutch settlers in the USA took the old stories of St. Nicholas or 'Sinterklaas', as he'd come to be known in parts of northern Europe, with them and Kris Kringle and St Nicholas / Sinterklaas became 'Santa Claus'!

Many countries, especially ones in Europe, celebrate St. Nicholas' Day on 6th December still to this day. In The Netherlands and some other European Countries, children leave clogs or shoes out on the 5th December (St. Nicholas Eve) to be filled with presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas's horse, they will be left some sweets. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving in much of Europe. Simple gift-giving on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6th) helps to preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child. 

St. Nicholas became popular again in the 1800s era when writers, poets and artists rediscovered the old stories.

In 1821 an anonymous poem called 'Old Santeclaus with Much Delight' was published in New York. It was the first time that Santa/St Nicholas was described in a sleigh being pulled by a reindeer. The poem was published with eight illustrations in a book called 'The Children's Friend: A New-Year's Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve' and it's the earliest images of 'Santa Claus' rather than St Nicholas or Sinterklaas.

In 1823 the famous poem 'A Visit from St. Nicholas' or 'T'was the Night before Christmas', was published. Dr Clement Clarke Moore later claimed that he had written it for his children. (Some scholars now believe that it was actually written by Henry Livingston, Jr., who was a distant relative of Dr Moore's wife.) In the poem, St. Nicholas is described "He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" and as coming with "a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer". This was the first time we found out the names of the reindeer.

These are the original eight reindeer that were described in the poem 'A Visit from St. Nicholas':

  • Dasher
  • Dancer
  • Prancer
  • Vixen
  • Comet
  • Cupid
  • Donner (who's also been called Dunder and Donder)
  • Blitzen (who's also been called Blixem, Blixen and Blicksem)

In 1939 we first learnt about Rudolph, when he was written about in a book by Robert L May for the Montgomery Ward department stores. Rudolph then had a cartoon made about him in 1948 and the famous song 'Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer' was written in 1949.

In 1902 the author L. Frank Baum (who wrote the Wizard of OZ) wrote a book called 'The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus'. In it a team of 10 reindeer are listed. They have rhyming names in pairs: Flossie and Glossie, Racer and Pacer, Fearless and Peerless, Ready and Steady, Feckless and Speckless. In different books, TV shows, films and songs, other reindeers have been named. Perhaps these are the reverse teams!

Did you know that Rudolph and Santa's other reindeers might well be all girls!? Only female reindeer keep their antlers throughout winter. By Christmas time most males have discarded their antlers and are saving their energy ready to grow a new pair in the spring.

The UK Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus became more and more alike over the years and are now one and the same.

Some people say that Santa lives at the North Pole. In Finland, they say that he lives in the north part of their country called Lapland.

But everyone agrees that he travels through the sky on a sleigh that is pulled by reindeer, that he comes into houses down the chimney at night and places presents for the children in socks or bags by their beds, in front of the family Christmas tree, or by the fire place.

Most children receive their presents on Christmas Eve night or early Christmas morning, but in some countries they get their presents on St. Nicholas' Eve, December 5th.

St. Nicholas putting the bag of gold into a stocking is probably where the custom of having a tangerine or satsuma at the bottom of your Christmas stocking came from. If people couldn't afford gold, some golden fruit was a good replacement - and until the last 50 years these were quite unusual fruits and so still special!

The biggest Christmas stocking was 168ft 5.65in long and 70ft 11.57in wide (from the heel to the toe). It was made by the volunteer emergency services organization Pubblica Assistenza Carrara e Sezioni (Italy) in Carrara, Tuscany, Italy, on 5th January 2011. Just think how many presents you could fit in that!


Santa Claus and Coca-Cola

There's a Christmas Urban Legend that says that Santa's red suit was designed by Coca-Cola and that they might even 'own' Santa!

This is definitely NOT TRUE!

Long before coke had been invented, St Nicholas had worn his Bishop's red robes. During Victorian times and before that, he wore a range of colors (red, green, blue and brown fur) but red was always his favorite! (Images of 'St Christmas', 'Father Christmas' and 'Old Man Christmas' often had him wearing a green 'open' robe trimmed with white. This was also the inspiration for 'The Ghost of Christmas Present' in Charles Dickens 'A Christmas Carol'.)

In January 1863, the magazine Harper's Weekly published the first illustration of St Nicholas/St Nick by Thomas Nast. In this he was wearing a 'Stars and Stripes' outfit and it was more of a political ad during the Civil War. 

Over the next 20 years Thomas Nast continued to draw Santa every Christmas and his works were very popular indeed (he must have been very good friends with Santa to get such good access!).

This is when Santa really started to develop his big tummy and the style of red and white outfit he wears today. Nast designed Santa's look on some historical information about Santa and the poem 'A Visit from St. Nicholas' and the illustrations from 'Old Santa-Claus with Much Delight'.

On January 1st 1881, Harper's Weekly published Nast's most famous image of Santa, complete with a big red belly, an arm full of toys and smoking a pipe!

This image of Santa became very popular, with more artists drawing Santa in his red and white costume from 1900 to 1930.

Santa was first used in Coke advertisements in the 1931, with the classic 'Coke Santa' being drawn by artist Haddon Sundblom. He took the idea of Nast's Santa but made him even more larger than life and jolly, replaced the pipe with a glass of Coke and created the famous Coke holding Santa!

Coca-Cola also agree that the red suit was made popular by Thomas Nast and not them!

Coke has continued to use Santa in their adverts since the 1931. In 1995 they also introduced the 'Coca-Cola Christmas truck' in the 'Holidays are coming' TV adverts. The red truck, covered with lights and with the classic 'Coke Santa' on its sides is now a famous part of recent Christmas history.


Santa Claus in Department Stores

James Wood Parkinson from Philadelphia is sometimes said to have been the first person to have Santa visit their store. In the 1840s Santa entertained people visiting his confectionary shop.


The first store Santa, however, goes to James Edgar (shown above). James Edgar portrayed Santa in his dry goods store in Brockton, Massachusetts in 1890.  Edgar was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1843 and moved to Brockton in 1878. In the years before he started playing Santa, he'd been running July 4th picnics for several thousand local children and would dress up as different figures at the picnics. Soon after the first appearance of Santa in his store, children from Boston and even New York were travelling to see him!

By the 1920s, the Department Store Santa had become a fixture in the US and then throughout the world.

Macy's Store in New York, is still to this day is the most popular store Santa. Macy's Santa started to visit the stores in 1861. This was only a few years after the store was founded.


From 1924, the arrival of Santa became the finale of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. The Macy's Santa became extra famous after being in 1947 film Miracle of 34th Street. Edmund Gwenn (pictured below) actually was Santa in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade while filming for the movie. Gwenn was the parade Santa two years in a row. 

There are, of course, controversial aspects of the American Santa Claus myth. Some Christians believe he takes the focus of Christmas away from Jesus Christ, placing it on a fictional character with little redemptive value. Others insist that it is unhealthy for parents to lie to their children to enforce their belief in Santa Claus. And other say that Santa Claus is a symbol of the commercialization and consumerism that has seized the Christmas holiday in the West. Still for others, Santa Claus and the modern celebration of Christmas is seen as an intrusion upon their own national traditions.  But beneath all the symbolism and tradition that been attached to the modern American Santa Claus, he, like so many other "Father Christmas" characters before him can hearken back to the simple Christian bishop who loved God and loved people. Bishop Nicholas displayed his love through the giving of gifts, just as our Heavenly Father gave the gift of His Son to us that first Christmas morning 2000 years ago.

In this season, we celebrate how God gave His Son, Jesus, to bring hope to the world. May each of us prayerfully consider how we, like Nicholas, can give of ourselves to help restore hope to those that God brings into our lives.

Click Here to Learn more of the Santa Claus Oath
All words, contents, images, and descriptions of the Santa Claus Oath
including the Santa Claus Oath Crest are copyrighted under an attachment
with Arcadia Publishing by Phillip L. Wenz.
ISBN # 978-0-7385-4149-5 and LCCC # 2007925452 - All rights reserved.