|Santa Claus (Coca Cola version)|
- Historically, Santa Claus is based on Bishop Nicholas of Myra who lived from 280-343 a.D. in Greece. He was made a Saint in 900 a.D. His Saints Day is December 6, which is the traditional 'Santa Claus' day in many European countries. St. Nicholas gave money and gifts to children but he did not like to be seen when he gave away presents. Therefore, he left his presents during the night. This turned into the modern day practice of telling children that Santa Claus will not arrive unless the children go to sleep early.
- Leaving food: The catholic saint was merged with non-christian figures, such as Father Christmas and the Norse god Odin. During Yule time, Odin would visit every house on his horse Sleipnir. Children would place their boots near the chimney (or outside of the door) with food for Sleipnir. During the night, Odin would enter the house through the chimney and reward them for their kindness with food, candy or gifts. The tradition still continues in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands. The food for Sleipnir became milk and cookies for Santa; the boots become stockings hung on the chimney. Other norse influences are the Yule log and the mistletoe (Read more about the mistletoe tradition here).
- Influences: The modern Santa Claus was most strongly defined by Dutch and American influences. In the Netherlands, the figure is called 'Sinterklaas'. Dutch settlers brought the 'Sinterklaas' tradition to the US where the name changed into 'Santa Claus'. After arriving in the US, several poems, songs, and stories extended and changed the figure of Santa Claus. Instead of a horse, he now used reindeer. His workshop was placed at the North Pole, he was given an army of elves, and a wife (Mrs Claus was added by a 1956 popular song by George Melachrino, "Mrs. Santa Claus", and the 1963 children's book How Mrs. Santa Claus Saved Christmas, by Phyllis McGinley).
- Animals: In Europe, Santa Claus uses either horse, a donkey, or reindeer. In the US, his animals changed, most importantly due to the 1823 story "A Vist From St. Nicholas", better known today as "The Night Before Christmas". In this poem eight reindeer were introduced as Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem (Dunder and Blixem came from the old Dutch words for thunder and lightning, which were later changed to the more German sounding Donner and Blitzen). The ninth, and most famous reindeer, was not added until 1939 by a poem about Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer by Robert L. May of the Montgomery Ward Company; followed by the popular 1949 song by Johnny Marks about "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer".
- Helpers: The European 'Sinterklaas' or 'Samichlaus' has often a helper called 'Black Peter/ Père Fouettard'. While Santa is the friendly gift-giver, Black Peter's job is to punish children who did not behave well. Similar to Black Peter, several European Alpine regions know a devil-like creature called Krampus who punishes naughty children. In Germany, Santa is linked to angel-like baby Jesus ('Christ Child') who brings gifts. The German word 'Kristkind' became Santa Claus' name 'Kris Kringle'. In the US tradition, Santa has a workshop full of elves who make all the gifts. However, in several Scandiavian countries, Santa is an elf himself (called Nisse or Tomte).
- Outfit: In many European countries, Santa Claus wears a Bishop's attire. In the US, his religious looks were changed to a more secular apparel (a fur-lined red suit and a soft hat). Santa's outfit became standardized through the 1920s and firmly established through the work of Coca-Cola Company commissioned illustrator Haddon Sundblom who developed advertising images using Santa Claus in 1930.
Santa Claus can therefore be considered a product of cultural globalization and a merger of many traditions.