The Origin of Santa Claus…

What better time to shed a bit of light on how exactly we ended up with a pipe smoking, red and white costume wearing, jovial old man giving away presents at this time of year…

The legend of Santa Claus includes a story about a poor man in the fourth century who had three daughters. None of these young women could marry because the father lacked money for dowries, so the eldest daughter offered to sell herself into slavery to finance the marriage of the other two.

One Bishop Nicholas heard of this misfortune and anonymously provided funds to the family so all three daughters could qualify for matrimony.

saint nicholas

Nicholas, a Greek, was born in an area of Turkey which Greece controlled during the fourth century. His parents were very wealthy, but unfortunately died, leaving their fortune to the young man – Nicholas, quite a religious fellow, rose to become a bishop in the Greek Orthodox Church. He gained recognition, acclaim and eventually sainthood through his generosity as he distributed his wealth to the poor and less fortunate.

The legend of Saint Nicholas spread throughout Europe. In the Netherlands he became known as Sinter Klaas and in Germany, by several similar names.


Our modern Santa comes to us via the imaginations of three Americans. During the early 1800′s, in his “History of New York” Washington Irving poked fun at Dutch culture. He depicted Saint Nicholas as a jolly Dutch sailor, embellished with a pipe and green coat. He called him Santa Claus and described him flying about in a wagon and “rattling down chimneys” as he brought gifts to children. New York, of course, was initially settled as a Dutch Colony.


Clement Moore, a professor of Greek Literature and Biblical Learning, further refined the image of Santa in a poem titled “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” where he modified Santa’s appearance and changed his mode of transportation.

Today, we know this work as “The Night Before Christmas”. It describes a jolly pipe smoking gentlemen whose belly shook like a “bowlful of jelly” when he laughed. Instead of a wagon he drove a sled powered by reindeer, all accounted for by name.

Then during the late 1800′s, Thomas Nast, an influential political cartoonist, drew pictures based on Moore’s description of Santa. These bear a close resemblance to our modern version.

night b4 xmas

With time and the help of several creative authors, Santa acquired both a wife and a home at the North Pole.

coke santa

While Coca Cola was not the first soft drink to replace Santa’s pipe with a beverage in advertisements, Coke did much to spread his contemporary image and culture during the 1930′s. In 1939, as an advertising promotion, the department store Montgomery Ward published a booklet featuring a story about Santa’s new reindeer called Rudolph and in 1949 Gene Autrey’s “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” became one of the world’s bestselling records.


With the development of film and television, Santa and Christmas evolved with popular culture, both in North America and in the far corners of the earth. While media impacts us significantly, as individuals and families we create a mosaic of our own traditions.

The generosity and kindness of the original Saint Nicholas however remains as a pervasive influence during our modern Christmas celebrations….

May we at Carey’s Pipe & Tobacco Shop wish all of our customers a very merry Christmas!  Happy Puffing…

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