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Who Invented Santa Claus?

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The original Santa in the US actually came from Dutch settlers from the 1600’s who brought over the legend of Sinterklaas. Sinterklaas or Saint Nicholas has roots in semi pagan religions of Norway and possible the Norwegian/Germanic God Odin. The actual St Nicholas was a bishop in Izmir, Turkey who was rich and sometimes tried to bring joy to children by throwing gifts through their windows.

Russian icon depicting St NicholasRussian icon depicting St Nicholas.

Germanic and Norse Folk lore

It is from these legends and folklore that the modern day Santa Claus, a Jolly, pump figure with big white bears dressed in fur lined red seems to have developed. There are traditional Icelandic poems dating from the 1200’s describing how Odin, riding a eight legged steed leads a hunting party across the sky during the Germanic feast of Yule. It further emerged that He would appear at Yule functions. Santa Claus’s white beard also came from folk lore where there are medieval depictions of St Nicholas with a huge white beard.

The night before Christmas: by Clement C. MooreThe night before Christmas: by Clement C. Moore.

Dutch development of the tradition of the gift giver

In the Low Countries, a feast on December 6th was a gift giving feast and it was often celebrated the night before. In fact, St Nicholas arrives with his helpers from Spain and brings a note of all the children who have been good through the year. At the time of the reformation, the Protestants decided that the gift giver should be bringing gifts to the baby Jesus and so dates of the feast changed to coincide with the old pagan feast of Yule. The Dutch portrayal of Sinterklaas was of a serious somber man with a full white beard but dressed in Bishops red robes.


Records show that an elf called Tomte delivered Christmas presents and this is where the North Pole and the Red hat developed.


The Americans fully embrace St Nick and a book called St A Claus in 1809 gave some details but it was the poem by Clement Clark Moore that really gave it form. This poem known as “The Night Before Christmas” really fleshed out the details. Here we got the names of the reindeer; we got his jolly laugh and his winks.