The Santa Timeline
1 Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, and the gift-giving began as a remembrance of the 3 wise kings who came from the east to give gifts to the Christ child. To this day, many Catholic countries celebrate 3 Kings Day in the beginning of January as their primary gift-giving day.
280 Saint Nicholas is born. He did not live in North Pole, but was a Greek bishop in present-day Turkey. He was known for many miracles and for his generosity, particularly to children. In one story, he visited a poor man at night, and anonymously threw 3 purses of gold in his window.
900 Catholic church canonizes Saint Nicholas (he becomes an official Saint). Over the years he had become the symbolic “gift giver” of winter celebrations.
1600s After the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther’s followers declared that Saint Nicholas was detracting from the true meaning of Christmas. They soon adopted their own “gift-giving” figure called the Kristkindt (Christ Child), an angelic child who went from house to house quizzing kids on their bible knowledge. Fun, huh? Mothers declared that the Kristkindt was too young to travel alone, so they brought back Saint Nicholas.
1600s Dutch Immigrants brought with them the legend of Sinterklaas, a figure who rides the roof tops upon a white horse, has a long beard, and visits houses with his mischevious black-faced helpers. Children would place boots filled with carrots or sugar (treats for the horse) near the chimney.
1770s After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until June 26, 1870
1809 in his book “A History of New York,” Washington Irving wrote about Saint Nicholas riding into town on a horse. 3 years later, he revised the book to include Nicholas riding over the trees in a wagon.
1822 Clement Clarke Moore writes “The Night Before Christmas” in which Saint Nick is portrayed as an elf with a miniature sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer.
1860 From the 1860s through the 1890s, reknowned illustrator Thomas Nast created Santa images for Harper’s Magazine. He also created posters of Santa sitting with Union soldiers during the Civil War, which demoralized the Confederate army.
1920s The image of Santa has been standardized to what we still picture today — a bearded, overweight, jolly man dressed in a red suit.
1931 Haddon Sundblom illustrated a series of Santa images to advertise Coca-Cola. Coke Christmas ads continue to this day.
1939 Writer Robert L. May created a poem about Rudolph, the ninth reindeer, who was teased by the other reindeer because of his slight build and shiny nose. 10 years later Johnny Marks wrote the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which became one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time.