Why Rich New Yorkers Created Santa Claus

Why Rich New Yorkers Created Santa Claus


When you think about iconic holiday characters, the first that comes to mind
is probably Santa Claus. The jolly old man known for his generosity and cheery demeanor dominates the media during the holiday season, appearing in everything from movies… “Santa’s coming to town.” “Santa, oh my god.” …to advertisements. “Is it cold in Santa Fe,
Raleigh, Cleveland tonight?” And it’s easy to see why. Santa sells. And we trust what he’s selling. But the real-life Santa
Claus doesn’t quite resemble the brand influencer of today. He was a poor monk in modest robes, known for his religious zeal and praised for his magnificent miracles. So how did he evolve so drastically? It’s all thanks to a
handful of rich New Yorkers and two short poems. The tale of St. Nicholas
is one that has spread across continents and
cultures since the beginning of the third century. Since his story was passed
through oral tradition, it’s often impossible to
separate fact from fiction when it comes to his actual legacy. It is said that he began
his life as a Christian monk on the Mediterranean coast of Patara, in what is now known as Turkey. From early on, he gave
up everything he had and traveled the countryside
helping the sick and poor. He was notorious for his religious zeal and his fervent defense of the church during a time when Christians
were heavily persecuted for their beliefs. But he is also credited with a number of fantastical miracles. In one story, he gave a
poor father bags of gold to pay for his three
daughters’ wedding dowries to prevent them from
turning to prostitution. And in another story, he
revived three children who were murdered by a butcher and hidden in pickling barrels. These terrific feats
concerning his generosity and his care for children are
what made St. Nicholas popular among the common people. And when he died, he
became a beloved saint and was given a holiday to
celebrate his benevolence. As his fame spread across Europe, his tale was mixed with local folktales of flying chariots and elves. In the Netherlands, St.
Nicholas was rumored to have left chocolate
treats or small gifts in the shoes of good children
and coal or a bag of salt in the shoes of bad children. He was described as a big man
wearing red clerical clothing with white hair and a
long white beard to match. The Dutch called him “Sinter Klaas,” which was a play on the
Dutch name, “Sint Nikolaas.” At the time, St. Nicholas
Day was a holiday completely unrelated to Christmas. In fact, Christmas itself
began as a celebration of the winter solstice,
commemorating the end of the darkest days of winter and welcoming the return
of extended sunlight. Nordic cultures celebrated
Yule from December 21st to the start of January. The Germans celebrated the pagan god Odin. And the Romans celebrated
Saturnalia in honor of the god of agriculture, Saturn. The common thread throughout
winter solstice celebrations is that they were meant
to be for everyone. So they were often raucous
parties fueled by alcohol. But while Christianity was
still a growing movement, church leaders sought to
make the birth of Jesus a holiday as well. They chose December
25th for the celebration in the hopes of piggybacking on existing winter solstice parties. And it worked. As Christianity spread, so
did celebrations of Christmas. But because of their close association with the winter solstice, Christmas parties also
became loud, unruly events. (fire roaring) Fast-forward to 19th-century America. The European colonists
of modern-day New York brought both St. Nicholas
Day and Christmas with them. But not everything was
pleasant in the New World. Christmas was still a
rowdy, drunken street mess. And rampant economic problems, which led to massive class disparity, just added fuel to the fire. The jaded lower classes
who couldn’t find work would riot during wintertime. Eventually, these protests grew so violent that a police task force was
formed to handle dissenters. These riots, paired with alcohol-fueled Christmas celebrations, were distasteful to New York’s very proper upper crust. So this spurred them to make a change. They decided to bring
the Christmas holiday inside the house and make the
focus family and children. And what better way to rebrand a holiday than to give it a face? And what better face for a family holiday than the face of a saint? The first problem was that
St. Nicholas was not quite as popular in America as
he had been in Europe. At least not until the efforts of some of high-society gentlemen, Pintard was the founder of the
New York Historical Society and St. Nicholas’s biggest advocate, and he pushed to make St. Nick
the society’s patron saint. At the same time, the American
author Washington Irving joined Pintard’s society and wrote “Knickerbocker’s History of New York,” a somewhat satirical, yet also historical, account of New York’s beginnings, where he described St.
Nicholas as an “ever-revered” presence who guided early Dutch settlers to colonize New York. Together, Pintard and
Irving helped familiarize the American people with
the persona of St. Nicholas. So, the next step was to reframe him as the face of Christmas. In 1821, an illustrated poem
titled “The Children’s Friend” described a character
known as “Santeclaus,” an obvious play on the
Dutch name “Sinterklaas.” Santeclaus was shown
visiting people’s homes during the night on a flying sled pulled by a single reindeer. And much like in the old Dutch legends, he bestowed small gifts to good children and punishments to naughty children. But what stood out about this story was that Santeclaus didn’t
visit families on December 6th, but rather on Christmas Eve. The following year, an American scholar named Clement Clarke Moore
piggybacked on this idea when he wrote the poem “A
Visit From St. Nicholas.” But you might be more familiar with the poem’s alternate title, “The Night Before Christmas.” In this poem, Moore played with
a slightly different picture of good ol’ St. Nick. Rather than being pulled
by a single reindeer, he was guided by eight. And rather than a thin
man in clerical robes, he became a jolly,
big-bellied man in a fur suit. The stories went viral. St. Nicholas became the main character of the Christmas season. Sixty years later, political
cartoonist Thomas Nast was inspired by these poems
and designed the image of St. Nicholas that’s
pervasive even today. Now we see Santa everywhere. On the street, at the mall, and even on our television
screens at home. He’s become a fundamental
part of the holiday season. But now he’s evolved to be more than just the mascot of Christmas. Since the ’30s, Santa’s
been a brand influencer used to help market products
during the holidays. And ironically, the traits that help Santa sell products today are the same ones that
tied him to Christmas in the first place. The jolly old man is genuine and giving, so when we see him, we trust
him almost without question. He makes us nostalgic for
childhood and helps us remember the best aspects of life, creating an easily
exploitable vulnerability in his audience. Santa sells, and we trust what he’s selling. But despite this drastic
evolution from benevolent monk to corporate shill and the
perhaps not-so-great intentions that spurred the change,
one thing remains true: No matter how Santa changes, he will always exist in our hearts and in our media.

100 thoughts on “Why Rich New Yorkers Created Santa Claus

  1. Disney: so… When Santa becomes a full-blown franchise, not just a character that everyone can use, we buy off the franchise and make a trilogy of movies, some animated shows, a theme park and a gazillion toys!

  2. And then rich people changed him again to raise the market cap of Coca Cola. Erstwhile to the 1940s, he wore every color (green, blue, purple) but then Coca Cola changed it to red and it stuck until today, simultaneously raising the market cap to billions.

  3. True story I saw Santa coming into my house at night was watching him as he had came through my window?! And he started eating my cookies I left out for him used my bathroom and then started sleeping on my couch my parents came down and screamed my dad ran upstairs grabbed his nerf gun shot him guess they knew each other and were playing around poor Santa guess he was tired cuz he never woke up but at least he brought me my bike

  4. Santa outpaces jesus by 4:1 in google trends from 2004. About time christians ditch santa and talk more about Jesus's frugality, giving, forgiving and loving deeds.

  5. Holy shit this is so unbelievably America-centric. Shit, borderline racist video which completely ignores all other cultures

  6. This is how the politicians, businessmen and mainstream media created different things that are commonly widespread in today's society…

  7. 1:04, they're right it would be Palestine. Why??
    After the coup to attain power happened against Ottoman Khilafat, the state of Israel was declared in 1917 by the great Britain with the request of Rothschild and the declaration is known as 'Balfour Declaration' , and the letter by the queen of britain to Rothschild is still available and you can see it if you search it, it is thought that israel was declared by Britain to separate the Arabs and Jews from them living together and in different states and create clash between them (like they did in case of indian subcontinent, hongkong-china and other land disputes)…. so, Yes israel didn't exist then (before 1917)…

  8. Never learned so much about the origin of Santa Claus and Christmas. Thanks guys. Happy holidays ?

  9. Santa was a Trojan Horse, making a perfect symbol for "Winter Holiday". Christmas is my birthday. I'm just not the same kind of liar as Jesus. I saved the world.

  10. Oh give me a f**kin break!

    Ooooo yes! All of us regular working people are just so easily deceived and led.
    (Of course the brave, noble, ultra-geniuses of the Business Insider weren’t fooled).
    Yes, of course it all makes sense now. Every year regular people don’t pretend Santa exists because it’s fun.
    They pretend it because they are slavishly deluded into doing so by devious corporations.
    ? Yeah….ok. I forgot people are unable to decide anything for themselves.

  11. P.S Jesus was not born in 25th of December. Although the N.T doesn't gives an exact date but it is highly likely that he was born during the summer heat.

  12. Thats why Islam criticizes Christianity so much. You have mixed your pagan cultures with the religion of God. Shame on you people.

  13. Stop the hideous WAR on Christmas!! We need to put the drunken revelry and debauchery back in Christmas! Bring back Saturnalia when the poor could invade the homes of the rich and reverse roles or else the rich would get the snot stomped out of them!

  14. My beautiful Mexican parents would tell me stories about how they would leave their shoes out for Santa Nicolas. The next morning shoes would be filled with toys and fruit. lol! Circa 1940s. Merry Christmas!!! LOVE and LIGHT to the world. Amor y Luz al mundo. A story should be told about the Native North Americans, Central, and South American Christmas.

  15. Don't trust old white men in red suites, especially if they offer you sweets and presents if you're good & do what HE wants you to do.

  16. Makes sense given that the British Father Christmas was popularised during Puritanism in the 17th century as a way to fight back against Christmas being outlawed. Father Christmas wore green robes and holly crowns and went wassailing with the masses demanding drink from ever house. I’ve always wondered why he and Santa Claus were so different

  17. Sinterklaas is said to come from Spain, possibly because in 1087, half of Saint Nicholas' relics were transported to the Italian city of Bari, which later formed part of the Spanish Kingdom of Naples. Others suggest that mandarin oranges, traditionally gifts associated with St. Nicholas, led to the misconception that he must have been from Spain. This theory is backed by a Dutch poem documented in 1810 in New York and provided with an English translation

  18. New York love a great fiction and lying to Children across the world. Some Family's don't want their children to know the truth. Mommy and Daddy is buying your presents, That Is The Truth. Stop lying to your children.

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