I don’t know about you, but I found out Santa wasn’t real through an offhand comment from a kid on the school bus. But with some pretty long hindsight, I think that kid had it all wrong – clearly, the guy’s everywhere, and has been for, well, longer than there have been school buses. So maybe the better question to ponder is how did Santa get to be so real? In that spirit, here’s a brief, non-exhaustive history, along with some of his more varied flavors – including (links jump down the page) Vintage Creepy, Modern Sexy-fashion, and Vintage Classic Santa.
270: A child is born in Asia Minor (now Turkey) who will be known as the Bishop of Myra. The good bishop was imprisoned by the Roman Emperor Diocletian (As Christians often were at the time), then later reinstated by Constantine (more on him in a minute). The bishop had a reputation as a gift-giver, reportedly paying the dowries of impoverished girls, and handing out goodies to children, who’d leave their shoes out overnight in the hopes he’d leave them a little something. A cult of the bishop started in Greece, then spread; later he was canonized St. Nicholas, patron saint of children.
Early 300s: December 25 becomes the day Christ’s birth is celebrated, thanks in large part to Constantine, the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. The Bible doesn’t mark any particular date for this, so the date is thought to have been chosen to coincide with winter solstice and the Roman festivals that went along with it. December 25 is also Jupiter’s bday, and Zeus’ before him. Someplace along the way, Constantine springs the future St. Nicholas from jail.
Middle Ages: A tradition begins among the Dutch around Sinterklaas, a bishop who goes house to house to deliver treats to kids on a single night in December.
1773: First Anglicization of Sinterklaas into Santa Claus thought to have appeared in a New York City newspaper (remember: Manhattan was originally a Dutch settlement).
1809: After the American revolution and all the British nastiness, New Yorkers try to reconnect with their Dutch roots by reviving the legend, cult, and feast of the bishop, St. Nicholas. Author Washington Irving, for whatever nationalist reason, decides to quash this by publishing a satire called the Knickerbocker’s History of New York. In it, he transforms St. Nicholas from a lanky bishop to a chunky, fur-clad, pipe-smoking gent. To complete the ridicule, Irving’s guy doesn’t use doors — he slides down chimneys. Chimneys!
1822: A Visit from St. Nicholas (aka Twas the Night Before Christmas) is published in a New York newspaper. The author – who we can maybe assume had read Irving’s book – locks in a bunch of Irving’s Santa characteristics, and adds this inspired touch: “eight tiny reindeer”.
1849: First mention that there might be a Mrs. Claus in a short story called A Christmas Legend.
1863: Harper’s Weekly runs a series of illustrations based on the 1822 poem in which Santa is depicted with a long beard and fur clothing.
1869: Santa first appears in U.S media in a bright red suit, though he’s also shown wearing green, white, and other palettes.
1890: Brockton, Massachusetts businessman James Edgar thinks to dress up in a Santa costume as a marketing tactic to attract children – and we can maybe assume their parents – to his dry goods store. Whether Edgar is the first creepy, sexy, or regular store Santa is not known.
1931: Coca Cola corporation starts a print ad campaign featuring Santa wearing Coca Cola red and white. The ads run every Christmas for the next 35 years, cementing the look in popular culture. The reindeer become full-sized, and the UK abandons its own folk figure — Old Father Christmas — in favor of Santa Claus.
Enjoy, then, if not a Coca Cola, then the many reincarnations of Mr. James Edgar:
Via Vintage Everyday.
A year ago, the owners of Toronto’s Yorkdale Mall did James Edgar one better by hiring Paul Mason, professional male model with the perfect white beard, to play Fashion Santa. For every person who snapped a selfie with Fashion Santa and posted to the appropriate hashtag, the mall donated a dollar to a children’s charity. The only wrinkle: Mason apparently had to do his best to avoid the regular Santas at the mall so as not to confuse the kids. Moms and some Dads, maybe not so much.
Via Vintage Everyday.