Design Toscano’s History of Santa Claus

SANTA FACT: “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” written by J.F. Coots and H. Gillespie was first sung by Eddie Cantor on his radio show in 1934. To date, over two hundred artists have recorded this song!

Have you even wondered where Santa Claus came from, and why he has so many names?

Like so many things in human history, the man we know as Santa Claus has a long and varied past. Santa’s story is a blending of several myths and real people extending as far back as the 3rd century. There are many winter gift bringers in various cultures, but they all represent the presiding spirit of bringing joy to the people. We at Design Toscano are proud to act as Santa’s little helpers, providing you with festive Christmas décor & ornaments and inspiring you to give the best gifts ever!

The very first mention of a Santa-like figure was in the 3rd century when the Norse god Oden, also known as the “Yule Father,” would ride on his eight-legged flying horse. Yule, a holy period that lasted twelve days and nights around the time of the winter solstice, was celebrated by both Germans and Scandinavians. By the 11th century though Yule had been replaced by Christmas and Odin was depicted with a long white beard and he was notorious for visiting people at night bestowing elf-made gifts to the deserving.

Figure 1: Victorian Christmas Postcard depicting early Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas, thought to have lived between 270 and 342 AD, traveled throughout the empire, helping the poor by leaving gifts of food and gold. His feast day is still celebrated in many countries on December 6th when children receive toys and treats. St. Nicholas’ generosity and kindness gave rise to the legends that increased his popularity and extended it to all of Europe.

Germans celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas (Sankt Nikolaus) along with most Eastern Christian countries. For them, Saint Nicholas, along with a companion, both known by many different names depending on the region, would visit the children and deliver them treats if they were good or scare them into behaving if they were bad.

In the 15th century Netherlands, Saint Nicholas was known as “Sinter Klaas” a shortened version of Sint Nikolaas, which is Dutch for St. Nickolas. In Finland, and the cold lands of Scandinavia, reindeer were used as beasts of burden and sleigh-pulling animals. This is likely where the legend of Santa’s magical reindeer come from. In 1572, Christmas was suppressed by the puritans and most countries forgot about Sinter Klaas except in Holland where he persisted as Saint Nickolas.

SANTA FACT: Father Christmas, a symbol happier times and a hope of better times to come, was seen on flyers in England printed in 1616.

When the Dutch took their traditions to the New World in 1626 they also brought the legend of St. Nicholas and his feast day, December 6th, when he would put toys and treats into Dutch children’s shoes if they had been good.

Historian and author, Washington Irving, wrote “The Knickerbocker History of New York” in 1809 and mentioned the Dutch celebrating Sinter Klaas day on December 6th. Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, read Washington’s Irving’s “Knickerbocker History” before he wrote the long Christmas poem entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” for his three daughters in 1822. Moore’s poem described Santa Clause as a “right jolly old elf” who was able to magically ascend up the chimney. This famous poem is now commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and is read aloud at many families’ Christmas Eve celebrations.

Back in merry old England, an 1836 woodcut drawing of Father Christmas riding a goat while wearing a fur trimmed gown and a holly wreath was printed to help bring back the stories of an Old Father Christmas who was fat, happy and presided over the season’s festivities.

Soon America’s Santa Claus was popularized in Europe and by 1880, Santa Claus and Father Christmas were used synonymously. Although the British believe that Father Christmas lives in Lapland, which is the northern most part of Finland, Americans place Santa’s workshop at the North Pole.

File:Santa's Portrait TNast 1881.jpg
Figure 2: Portrait of Santa Claus by Thomas Nast,
Published in Harper’s Weekly, 1881

In 1862, when Harpers Weekly magazine was to publish Moore’s poem, the editor felt it would be nice to include an illustration to accompany it, and asked Thomas Nash, a political cartoonist, to draw Santa Claus. Nash had no idea what a “right jolly old elf” should look like, beside, the “shook like a bowlful of jelly” so he based him on a Bavarian gnome with a fur trimmed red suit, full white beard and a sack full of presents and toys. Nast continued to draw Santa Claus for the next thirty years and in subsequent illustrations he added the North Pole workshop, helpful elves and Mrs. Claus.

In 1931, the Coca-Cola Company wanted to place print ads in popular magazines, so they hired illustrator Haddon Sundblom to draw Santa with the soft red, white fur trimmed cap, ruddy cheeks and winning demeanor with a bright smile that seemed friendly to children. Coke was not the first one to put Santa Claus into a red suit, but it worked well for them and Sundblom continued creating holiday ads featuring Santa until 1964.

Santa Claus is now loved worldwide and delivers gifts to millions of children on Christmas Eve.

Bring the magic of Santa Claus to your own home this holiday season!

What plays eight different Christmas songs and counts down the days to Christmas? The answer is Design Toscano’s grand-scale Santa’s Countdown Christmas Advent Calendar Sculpture (DB477697). This brightly LED lit, digital countdown calendar will help build the excitement each and every day as friends, family, neighbors and even customers will stop by your home or storefront to get their photo taken with Santa, a tree with presents, bright red ribbons, glittering golden bells and a touch of snow. Help kids countdown the days, hours and minutes while listening to the festive music of the holiday season. (Don’t worry, you can turn on and off the music at any time!)

Santa’s Victorian Holly Christmas Elves Statue Set (LY710212) has enough old-world style to recall holidays past. This sculptural set of two of Santa’s elves is so adorable that they will make their way into your festivities as a Victorian centerpiece in any display. Standing in the snow, both of adorable pixies are adorned with glittering fairy wings shaped like holly leaves and dressed in shades of forest green with garnet red caps and pantaloons. This pair of vintage-style Christmas elves will bring you years of joy to come.

Unique and loveable, this Santa Claus Sculptural Glass Topped Holiday Table (EU9285) will delight you with holiday cheer. With his white beard, green mittens, and striped candy canes tucked into his buckled black belt, this functional work of holiday décor is a “right jolly old elf.” Straight from the North Pole, Toscano’s exclusive glass-topped Santa table will happily serve your guests an eggnog and slice of Christmas cake but, come Christmas Eve, it is the perfect spot to leave out cookies and milk for Santa!

A Design Toscano exclusive, the Ho-Ho-Hold-It Santa Claus Mantel Stocking Holder Statue (FU82976) is beautifully decorative and functional. Santa’s flowing beard, so realistically hand painted along with his handsome face and hat adorned with white fur, curls into a hook to hold your stocking ready for the big night. Made of a heavyweight stone-resin mixture, our Kris Kringle weighs three pounds and will become a holly-jolly showpiece on your holiday mantel.

Santa Claus is coming to your town, and your tree, with the Super Santa Flying Blown Glass Ornament (WD3644). You won’t be able to keep this Santa a secret as he adorns your tree in his classic red suit with glitter frosted fur and a red-bobble decorated evergreen wreath on one arm and a lantern in the other. This European-style, silvered blown glass Kris Kringle ornament will charm everyone who sees him fly onto your tree. A Design Toscano exclusive, our flying Santa will always come to your rescue when you need the perfect teacher, co-worker or neighbor gift!

No, it’s not the man in the moon, but the Old Saint Nick Holiday Stained Glass Window(TF28024) is a sparkling work of art glass shaped like a crescent moon. With a droll little mouth, green holly-decked red Santa hat and long white beard made from 60 hand cut pieces of authentic stained glass, this Christmas window decoration will be a sparkling standout while the sun shines, and if surrounded by a string of lights, it will glitter merrily at night too! Makes a wonderful holiday gift to yourself or a holiday hostess.

When artist Thomas Nast drew Santa sorting his mail into “naughty and nice” piles, boys and girls everywhere sought to set the record straight by posting thousands of letters to Santa. You can continue the tradition with this amazing Santa North Pole Holiday Mailbox (NE150239), hand painted glossy apple red, with a gold accented and filigreed letterbox. This enchanting British-style postbox, with lock-and-key back door for letter retrieval, will fit right in with any Christmas display and can aid in collecting for local charities to help the dreams of all children come true.

Children want to see if reindeer really know how to fly, but our playful pair of Christmas Red-Nosed Reindeer Statues (NE980087) always keeps their feet on the ground. With wonderfully hand-painted details, like twinkling blue eyes, happy smiles, white deer tails and shiny red noses, these two reindeer will warm your heart. Make your holiday less frosty, and join in the reindeer games with these dynamic Red-Nosed Reindeer statues all decked out in real Santa caps and black collars studded with faux bells.

Outstandingly lifelike, our A Visit from Santa Claus Holiday Statue (EU28288) will captivate all who catch sight of this merry, Design Toscano-exclusive Santa sculpture. Along with plenty of Yuletide charm and a jolly hand-painted face, our festive Santa Claus will greet your visitors by the front door, on the porch, or by your tree or fireplace. Amazing details, with shiny black belt and buckled boots, evergreen mittens, iconic red suit trimmed in fur, and a fir green pack overflowing with gifts and toys, mark this friendly visiting Santa a standout anywhere!

Shop Design Toscano for superb holiday gifts for everyone on your list and Christmas décor & ornaments to help make your winter holidays merry and bright. 

I hope that you all end up on Santa’s nice list!

Posted by Sue Mell