Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, joulupukki, Jultomten, Saint Nicholas, Weihnachtsmann, Ded Moroz… Different cultures have their own versions of Santa Claus, the kind, generous and big-hearted old man who for many represents the spirit of Christmas. Santa Claus is often portrayed with a long white beard and red cheeks, dressed in red and white kaftan. On Christmas Eve, he flies through the air with a sleigh pulled by his reindeer, bringing gifts to children around the world.
But who really is this jolly old man and how did he become the symbol of Christmas? The familiar image of Santa Claus originates from 19th century America but the legend of this benevolent gift-giver actually has roots in ancient Europe. The origin of Santa has left its marks on the way Christmas is celebrated around the world.
Different cultures have their own versions of Santa Claus...
Many stories are told about how the character of Santa Claus came into existence. The stories have lived and changed through time but especially two figures are repeated in them: Saint Nicholas and Sinterklaas.
Santa Claus is said to originate from Saint Nicholas of Myra, a bishop who lived during the time of the Roman Empire in the 4th century in modern-day Turkey. Saint Nicholas came to be known as Nicholas the Wonderworker because of the many miracles attributed to him. Saint Nicholas also gave gifts especially to poor children each year on December 6. Saint Nicholas is still today the patron saint of children in many places in Europe, such as Greece.
Saint Nicholas, the original Santa.
After the death of Saint Nicholas, the legend of him spread throughout Europe. The heroic reputation of Saint Nicholas reached the Netherlands with Dutch sailors. There it inspired the figure of Sinterklaas, another early version of Santa Claus. Many traits of the present-day Santa Claus originate from Sinterklaas: Sinterklaas was portrayed as an elderly man with a white beard, wearing a red cape and a hat and who rode a white horse. But unlike the jolly Santa, Sinterklaas was a serious character who carried a big red book in which he wrote down whether a child has been naughty or nice within the past year. Sinterklaas also travelled with his servant Black Pete (Zwarte Piet) whose task was to spank the naughty children with a broom.
In America Sinterklaas became Santa Claus. The way Santa Claus is known today began to be formed during the 19th and 20th century in different publications. Santa was depicted as a jolly, white-bearded old man who lives in the North Pole and delivers gifts to children in a flying sleigh. The ‘breakthrough’ of the modern Santa Claus happened in the 1930s when Coca Cola incorporated Santa Claus in their ads – a move which widely popularized the appearance of Santa and also boosted the sales of Coca Cola.
… But the REAL Santa Claus comes from Finland 😉
Though many stories have been told about the origins of Santa Claus, us Finns know that the real Santa actually comes from Finland. The Finnish Santa Claus (joulupukki) has its roots in Saint Nicholas and nuuttipukki. Nuuttipukki were men who dressed as a goat according to an old pagan fertility rite and wandered from one house to another to beg for Christmas leftovers on January 13th – a tradition which started in the 17th century. Sometimes nuuttipukki gave presents to good children and branches to bad children.
However, according to Finnish folklore, the one and only Santa Claus was born 300 years ago. Santa Claus lives in Korvatunturi with Mrs. Santa Claus, the Christmas elves and Santa’s reindeer. Korvatunturi (Ear Fell in English) is a real fell which is located in the beautiful and magical Lapland. Some people say that the ear-shape of the fell – according to which the fell has got its name – helps Santa to hear the wishes of every child in the world. Santa’s secret workshop is also said to be located in Korvatunturi where elves help Santa to make Christmas presents for children. Santa leaves Korvatunturi each year on December 23 to give out the gifts.
Santa Claus dashing through the snow with his loyal companions.
Though Santa’s home and workshop are secret places, Santa’s office is located in Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi and it is open to the public. In Santa Claus Village, visitors get to meet Santa’s reindeer, admire Nordic Lights and maybe even meet Santa, as he visits the office frequently to spread the Christmas spirit to the hearts of the young and the old!
If you are unable to visit Santa Claus Village and meet Santa personally, you can always write to him. Letters to Santa can be sent to the address Joulupukki/Santa Claus, 99999 Korvatunturi. All letters with this address will be delivered to Santa who reads them personally.