7 Interesting Facts About Santa Claus You Probably Didn't Know
How exactly did the jolly, bearded North Pole resident evolve into the cultural icon we know today? Here are seven interesting facts about his evolution...
1. Santa is real... sort of
Folklore may have turned Santa Claus into a jolly and beloved toy distributor who rides in a sleigh pulled by eight flying reindeers, but he is actually based, loosely, on a real person. Born around the year 270, St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, a town in what is now Turkey. He earned a reputation as an anonymous gift giver by paying the dowries of poor girls and handing out treats and coins to impoverished children — often leaving them in their shoes, set out at night for that very purpose. Since his death, Nicholas has been canonized as the patron saint of children.
2. He's only been 'Santa Claus' for 200 years
The Dutch kept St. Nicholas' story alive in the form of Sinterklaas -- a bishop travels from house to house to deliver treats to children on the night of Dec. 5.
3. A satiric book first sent Santa down a chimney
In his satiric 1809 book "A History of New York," Washington Irving characterized Santa Claus as a portly, bearded man who smokes a pipe. Irving's book also marked the first time Santa slid down the chimney.
4. "Twas the Night Before Christmas" introduced the reindeer
Clement Moore's 1822 poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, now more commonly referred to as "Twas the Night Before Christmas", first published on Dec. 23, 1823, introduced and popularized many of Santa's defining characteristics — including the one about him driving a sleigh guided by "eight tiny reindeers."
5. Coca-Cola created the modern Santa Claus look
The modern image of Santa Claus as the jolly old man in the red suit was cemented into American pop culture in 1931, when artist Haddon Sundblom illustrated him that way for a widely-circulated Coca-Cola campaign.
6. The department store Santa is a 120-year-old tradition
In 1890, Massachusetts businessman James Edgar became the first Santa Claus in a department store. It was Edgar who came up with the idea of dressing up in a Santa Claus costume as a marketing tool. It was such a huge success that children from all over the state dragged their parents to Edgar's small dry goods store in Brockton. Since then, a tradition was born.
7. Santa was a bachelor until the late 1800s
The first mention of Mrs. Claus was in the 1849 short story A Christmas Legend by James Rees. Over the next years, the idea of Mrs. Claus found its way into literary publications, like the Yale Literary Magazine and Harper's Magazine. But it wasn't until Katherine Lee Bates' 1889 poem Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride that Santa's wife was popularized.