Santa Claus

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Today's usual representation of Santa Claus

The Santa Claus is a symbol of Christmas gift giving, in Germany especially in North, Central and East Germany and in the rest of the world, especially in Protestant dominated regions such as in French-speaking western Switzerland (Père Noël), the Netherlands , Scandinavia , Estonia , Latvia , the United Kingdom , Australia , Canada, and the United States .

He is depicted as a plump, friendly old man with a long white beard , red robe trimmed with white fur; Attributes are his gift sack and (in the past) a rod . Contemporary postcards prove that this depiction already existed in the 19th century. The Coca-Cola Company used from 1931 every year at Christmas time this representation for its own advertising campaigns.

Allegedly, Santa Claus brings presents to good children on Christmas Eve , while naughty children only bring a rod. It thus combines characteristics of the holy bishop Nikolaus von Myra and his companion, the servant Ruprecht .

Origin and Customs

Saint Nicholas

The figure of Santa Claus goes back above all to the European legends about St. Nicholas; but it is by no means to be equated with this. Nikolaus von Myra was a 4th century bishop with numerous legends. As early as the Middle Ages, children on the feast day of St. Nicholas, December 6th , is often given presents the evening before. This date used to be the day of giving presents, which was only set on Christmas in the course of the Reformation and as a result of its rejection of the veneration of saints in many countries (see also Christ Child ). The "Weyhnachtsmann" was mentioned for the first time in 1770 in the Berlin weekly magazine "Mannigfaltheiten". The writer August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben played a major role in spreading the story of Santa Claus. In 1835 he wrote the song Father Christmas Comes tomorrow .

Since the 13th century, in monastery and collegiate schools, a student has often embodied on St. Nikolaus the “ child bishop ” with the corresponding rights of instruction, a custom that was later taken up again in individual places. After the Council of Trent , which stipulated the bishops' residence and visitation obligations in their dioceses, Saint Nicholas also appeared as a visitor who, accompanied by a tamed devil , visited the people at home and asked whether the children were in the past Had been good or naughty for years.

Bringer of gifts

A Santa Claus with a choir cloak and the miter of a bishop giving presents for children in Jexhof in Upper Bavaria

The tradition of St. Nicholas lives on in parts of Europe today. In the Netherlands ( Sinterklaas ), Belgium, Luxembourg, West Germany, Saxony, the Czech Republic and Switzerland , Santa Claus comes to the house on the eve of December 6th to give pre-Christmas treats or to put them in a Santa Claus boot placed in front of the window at night to lay.

Similarly, he acts in Bavaria and Austria on 6 December, where often the day before the most of the winteraustreibenden Perchten inspired (Celtic origin) Krampusse are the opponent - in completely traditional version with a cloven hoof and two horns, a Reisigrute (which in many cases [ playful]) and over the devil's tail of a wooden butt strapped to the back, in which supposedly the "bad" children are being transported away. Krampus Day is actually December 5th, but for practical reasons the Krampus often only comes on December 6th together with Nikolaus, who then successfully puts him in his place at every appearance. The term Perchten can also be found in the term "Knecht Ruprecht" for the companion of Nicholas.

In the Franconian region , the " Pelzmärtel " (from West Central German pelzen = 'to beat' and Märtel as a diminutive of Martin) has been a popular gift since the Reformation , in Swabian Belzmärt appears as a dark companion of Nicholas. Here elements of the custom on St. Martin's Day (November 11th) are likely to have merged with the St. Nicholas custom . "Pelznickel" ( nickel as a diminutive of Nicholas ) also occurs in Lower Franconia.

In addition to Nicholas, the symbolic figure of the Christ Child had emerged in numerous regions of the German-speaking area , also in contrast to the "Holy Christ", which Martin Luther had put in place of St. Nicholas. The custom of giving presents to children at Christmas has been propagated by Luther since around 1535 as an alternative to the previous custom of giving presents on St. Nicholas Day, in order to direct the children's interest in Christ instead of the veneration of saints. The gifts had been moved to Christmas Eve since the Reformation . But St. Nicholas also remained popular among the people as a presenter.

In the famous Christmas carol morning Santa comes , the text of 1835 Hoffmann von Fallersleben was written, are the first two lines: "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, comes with his gifts." This proves that the latest in the Biedermeier generally the role of Santa Claus as the bringer of gifts was known.

The Nordic legendary figure of Nisse (from Danish Niels for Nikolaus ), adapted as a gnome in German , with its red cap is reminiscent of Santa Claus. Derived from this is the custom of Wichteln in the run-up to Christmas, in which gifts are given to each other anonymously in a random assignment of giver and recipient.

The " Santa Claus-Free Zone " campaign of the Bonifatiuswerk of German Catholics , which has existed since 2002, aims to bring St. Nicholas back into the foreground as a symbol for conveying Christian values ​​and a role model for Christian-inspired action in society and to confuse it with the popular Counteracting fictional character of Santa Claus.


In northern Europe there has long been a figure who uses rod and nuts to prepare people for the long winter season. The rod was seen as a symbol of fertility, the nuts as rich and durable food. This bearded old man was dressed in a long brown winter fur with a hood and was riding a reindeer sleigh . He lives in Lapland . It is assumed that elements of the Nordic god Odin and the god Balder were still included here.
The Joulupukki is known in Finland.

Jack Frost

The Russian variant of Santa Claus is Ded Moros ( Russian Дед Мороз , also Deduschka Moros ), " Father Frost ", literally translated "Grandfather Frost". He wears a blue and white costume, which stands for frost and cold. At his side is always a little girl, the granddaughter of Ded Moroz, who is called Snegurochka ( Russian Снегурочка , "snowflake").

Santa claus

Santa Claus in the United States

European emigrants brought the Saint Nicholas custom with them to the United States of America . The Sinterklaasfeest was especially celebrated in the Dutch colonies , especially since Saint Nicholas was also the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam , later New York . The Dutch Sint Nicolaas or Sinterklaas became the English Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus .

Today's popular myth of Santa Claus, who travels in a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer , climbs into the houses through the fireplace at night and distributes the presents there, goes back to the poem The Night before Christmas published anonymously in 1823 ; in the past it was mostly ascribed to Clement Clarke Moore , and now occasionally to Major Henry Livingston Jr. , but this ascription is not entirely certain either. The author also mentions the names of his reindeer in the poem: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem. Dunder and Blixem later became Donner and Blitzen. Rudolph only came in in 1939 through a poem by Robert L. May , which provided the template for the Christmas carol Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Johnny Marks .

Santa Claus appearance

Thomas Nast: Woodcut Merry Old Santa Claus , in Harper's Weekly January 1, 1881
Heinrich Hoffmann: Nikolaus im Struwwelpeter
Moritz von Schwind: Mr. Winter , Munich picture sheet from 1848


The figure of the holy bishop Nicholas was secularized in the middle of the 19th century and lost her regalia ( alb , stole and choir cloak or chasuble ), the crosier and the miter . The liturgical robe was replaced by a coat and pointed cap , reminiscent of the Phrygian cap from Asia Minor . Elements from Knecht Ruprecht and winter figures like the rough Percht may have been incorporated .

One of the first descriptions that resembles Santa Claus today comes from a poem by New Yorker William Gilley . In 1821 he described Santeclaus as dressed entirely in fur and riding on a sleigh pulled by reindeer.

Another representation can be found in the poem "'Twas the night before Christmas" (A Visit from St. Nicholas) by Clement Clarke Moore of New York from 1822, which had a considerably greater influence. He described Santa Claus as a round, funny elf with a round little belly, dressed entirely in fur, with glittering eyes, rosy cheeks, a nose like a cherry, a long snow-white beard and a pipe.

The depiction of Nikolaus in the children's book Struwwelpeter by the Frankfurt doctor Heinrich Hoffmann , which was written in 1844, is very similar to today's depiction of Santa Claus. A drawing by Moritz von Schwind in Munich Picture Sheet No. 5 from 1848 under the title Mr. Winter , who depicts a stern, unloved figure and to whom people keep their distance, comes from the same period .

The German-American Thomas Nast , who emigrated to New York in 1846 and became known as a caricaturist in the United States, drew an old, bearded man from a sledge on Christmas 1863 during the American Civil War for Harper's Weekly magazine Union troops given gifts. Nast's idea of ​​Santa Claus went back to the PalatinateBelzenickel ”, a regional, fur-wearing Santa Claus figure from the 19th century that he knew from his childhood days. When he was later asked to color his drawing, he chose the colors red and white. Later it became the pipe-smoking, cozy and jolly old woman. Nast painted these stories until the end of his life. In 1923, as part of an advertising campaign by the New York beverage manufacturer White Rock Beverages, the famous Santa Claus was drawn for its popular Dry Ginger Ale based on this model .

Design as an advertising figure for Coca-Cola

As early as the beginning of the 20th century, Santa Claus appeared again and again in blue, brown, gold and also red coats. As early as 1822, Clement Clark Moore described a good-natured, happy man in a red coat in his poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas". The New York Times wrote in 1927: “A standardized Santa Claus appears to New York children. Height, weight and stature are just as unified as the red robe, the cap and the white beard ”.

The Coca-Cola Company writes on its German website: “The character of Coca-Cola Santa Claus, known today, has been around since 1931. The cartoonist and graphic artist Haddon Sundblom is responsible for his appearance. He designed the friendly facial expression and the white beard and dressed it in the Coca-Cola colors red and white ”. When Haddon Sundblom designed Santa's face, he had a real model in mind: Lou Prentiss, a longtime friend of the designer and former salesman for the company. Sundblom later used his own reflection as an alternative. Scandinavian motifs may also have flowed into Sundblom's figures. Up until 1964, he drew at least one Santa Claus every year for the Coca-Cola advertisement and, together with the immense global marketing campaigns of the Coca-Cola Company, had a lasting impact on the idea of ​​the modern Santa Claus.

Santas in Austin, Texas

place of residence

The Swiss Nikolaus is at home in the Black Forest , goes hiking with his donkey on December 6th and is accompanied by the Schmutzli. According to the Finns, Santa Claus lives in Korvatunturi in Lapland ; However, it is also claimed that he lives in Rovaniemi , especially since a SantaPark was created there in 1998. The Swedes are convinced that he lives in Dalarna or, in the old tradition, he has no permanent residence as a tomte . According to the Danish view it can be found in Greenland . The American Santa Claus lives at the North Pole . In some children's books, however, Santa Claus is described as living at the South Pole .

Others claim that Santa Claus or its origin should come from the region of Antalya , which probably refers to the historical Nicholas of Myra . Alternatively, St. Nicholas is located in southern Italy because the relics of the saint were carried there by crusaders in the Middle Ages. The Dutch Sinterklaas comes from Spain on a steamboat , accompanied by his partner, the Zwarten Piet . Spain is sometimes interpreted as being confused with Italy; The indication of origin with the Dutch country name Spanje comes from a poem from the 19th century in which the country name rhymes with appeltjes van oranje (oranges, oranges).

Facade decoration with Santa Claus

In recent years, the US Christmas decoration trend has been copied in Germany, but also in Austria, of putting up dolls dressed as Santa Claus as “facade climbers” on house walls. In apartment buildings , this requires the landlord's permission and the facade of the house must not be damaged.

Letters to Santa Claus

Letters to Santa Claus in a post office in Kiel (1964)

Many children send letters to Santa Claus with wishes during Advent. These are collected in specially set up Christmas post offices in many countries in the German-speaking, Anglo-American and Scandinavian cultural areas , and mostly answered.

In Germany, stamp collectors in the village of Himmelreich , a district of Neustadt am Rübenberge near Hanover, regularly answer the mail that children send to “Santa Claus in Heaven” at Christmas. This also happens in the small village of Himmelreich (near Höllental ) in the Black Forest. The only Bavarian Christmas post office is in Himmelstadt , near Würzburg.

Far better known, however, is the Christmas post office in Himmelpfort in Brandenburg near Fürstenberg north of Berlin, where up to 200,000 letters from all over the world are now answered by volunteers every year. Letters to Santa Claus have also been answered in Himmelpforten in Lower Saxony, near Stade, since 1961. In 2001 there were around 23,000 letters that reached the post office there.

Another Christmas post office is or was in Germany in the Hildesheim district of Himmelsthür as well as in Engelskirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia and in St. Nikolaus, southwest of Saarbrücken.

In Austria, since 1950, between the first Sunday in Advent and January 6, letters in the Christkindl post office of the place of pilgrimage , which has practically been called Christkindl for three centuries and is now part of the city of Steyr , have received a special stamp (around two million annually).

The letters from Santa Claus were written by the author JRR Tolkien , among others. Theletters to his children, accompaniedby watercolors and drawings, begin in the 1920s and tell stories of Santa Claus living at the North Pole, the clumsy North Polar bear and dangerous goblins . They were published posthumously in the 1970s.

Is there a santa claus?

In 1897, eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon from New York wrote a letter to the New York Sun asking, “Is there a Santa Claus?” The editor, Francis Pharcellus Church , who received this in reply, was so convincing that the editorial was printed on the front page of the newspaper every year at Christmas time for over half a century - until the New York Sun was discontinued in early 1950. Since 1977 - after Rolf R. Bigler, who wrote for Die Welt am Sonntag , had the idea - this correspondence has been printed in this newspaper at Christmas time.

He was temporarily arrested when a 31-year-old yelled at "Breakfast with Santa" outside a church in Cleburne, Texas, in December 2018 , that Santa was "not real."

Chocolate Santa Claus

Especially on St. Nicholas Day as well as on December 24th, chocolate figures of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus are very popular. Around 1820, the first figures of St. Nicholas were made from solid chocolate in bishop's robe with miter and staff. About 20 years later, they were first produced in the shape we are used to today as a hollow body. With the advent of the Santa Claus figure, the representation largely changed to the form that is predominant today.

For production, liquid chocolate is placed between the two halves of a mold and rotated in the so-called centrifugal casting process until the chocolate is evenly distributed and has cooled down. Over 9,000 tons of chocolate are processed into around 100 million chocolate Santa Clauses in Germany every year. Thus the Father Christmas is second only to the chocolate bunny , which accounts for 56% of the chocolate shells production accounts (figures from 2002). Chocolate Nicholas have a smaller market share in Germany, but are also part of the regular range for some confectionery manufacturers.

In Austria, chocolate niches and krampuses are still common, but chocolate Santa Clauses are less common. In the meantime, some producers have started using the same molds to make both chocolate Santa Clauses and chocolate nicholas, which differ only in their packaging.

Renaming rumors

In 2015, a post was published on Facebook in which it was claimed that the Greens were in favor of St. Nicholas being called “Zipfelmützenmann” in future “out of respect for Islamic culture”. "As a proud German" one should reject that. Under the stylized picture of a red-clad, white-bearded man read "This is a Santa Claus" (although the picture showed a Santa Claus and not a bishop). In fact, no politician had made such a request; this hoax will continue to be shared on social networks. It may have originated from another Facebook post claiming that the discounter Penny was selling pointed men instead of the chocolate Santa Clauses or Santa Clauses. However, as Penny made clear, the Zipfelmännchen as a “chocolate hollow figure” is “only one facet” of the extensive range and does not replace Santa Clauses.

Santa Claus in music, literature and film


The best-known song, Tomorrow comes Santa Claus, is by Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798–1874). It was written around 1840. In his song Nikolaus und Weihnachtsmann , Rolf Zuckowski humorously explains the difference between Nikolaus and Santa Claus.


Santa Claus is enjoying growing popularity in newer children's book series. For example, in Lauras Stern , Conni or Felix, their own books about Christmas are being designed, in which the question of the existence of Santa Claus and his mysterious ability to guess and fulfill wishes are addressed.

In the well-known fairy tale Peterchens Mondfahrt by Gerdt von Bassewitz (premiered in 1912, published as a book in 1915), Santa Claus plays a prominent supporting role with his " Christmas meadow ", on which all presents grow. The fairy tale was filmed in 1959 and 1990 and was often broadcast on ARD's Christmas program.

Siegfried Lenz used the motif in his short story Risk for Santa Clauses (1957).

In Ray Bradbury's short story The Exiles , first published in 1949, Santa Claus fled to Mars together with other fantastic characters , as fantasy is forbidden on Earth, which is dominated by scientists. A "poor, shabby" figure, he vanishes into thin air like the other fantasy creatures when the spaceship expedition from Earth to Mars burns the last fantastic books that were still kept in a museum.


In many American films, the topic of "Believing in Santa Claus" as the fulfillment of children's wishes is a central point. The Manhattan Miracle was filmed several times from 1947 to 1994. The actor Edmund Gwenn even received an Oscar for the role in 1947 . The Christmas films of the Santa Clause trilogy with Tim Allen also have this theme . The film The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), on the other hand, is a satirical counterpart. The 2004 film Der Polarexpress offers a very classic treatise on Santa Claus .

As a counterweight to the numerous American Santa Claus films, the children's television station KiKA developed the character of Beutolomäus , among others in the film Beutolomäus and the secret Christmas wish (2006).


  • Peter Bahn: Nikolaus and Santa Claus - The wintry gifts. (= Publication accompanying the special exhibition of the same name in the Museum im Schweizer Hof in Bretten , November 24, 2016 to January 15, 2017). Museum im Schweizer Hof, Bretten 2016, ISBN 978-3-928029-61-2 , p. 20 ff.
  • Manfred Becker-Huberti : Santa Claus is alive. How he became what he is. Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau / Basel / Vienna 2004, ISBN 3-451-07035-9 .
  • Angelika Breunig: Bring yourself many gifts ... - On the cultural history of the Christmas present. (= Booklet accompanying the exhibition of the same name in the Museum Malerwinkelhaus Marktbreit , November 21, 2009 to January 17, 2010). Museum Malerwinkelhaus, Marktbreit 2009, DNB 1013333926 , pp. 10–12.
  • Martina Eberspächer: Santa Claus - On the emergence of a pictorial tradition in the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Books on Demand, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 978-3-8311-2515-9 .
  • Thomas Hauschild : Santa Claus. The true story. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2012, ISBN 978-3-10-030063-8 .
  • Thomas Ludewig (Ed.): Christkind, Santa Claus & Co. - Cultural history about the Christmas gifts. (= Publication accompanying the special exhibition of the same name in the Clemens Sels Museum Neuss , November 29, 2007 to January 27, 2008). Clemens Sels Museum, Neuss 2007, ISBN 978-3-936542-35-6 , pp. 85–97, 107–136.
  • Gerhard Müller: How long has Santa Claus been around? In: The Language Service. Issue 6/2016. Society for the German Language (GfdS), Wiesbaden 2016, ISSN  0038-8459 , pp. 223–228.
  • Evelyne Polt-Heinzl and Christine Schmidjell: Santa Claus. A literary mess . Philipp Reclam jun, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-15-040043-0 .

Web links

Commons : Santa Claus  album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Santa Claus  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. a b University of Augsburg: Christ Child
  2. Charlotte Frank: Santa Claus: Coca Cola? What! ,, dated December 27, 2007, accessed on November 12, 2010. Here an American drawing from 1866: [1] , here a Santa Claus postcard from 1903: [2]
  3. ^ Bavarian State Library, Munich: To the authors . In: manifolds . No. 69 , 1770. , page 259, quote: ... but if you are really good, because "the Christmas man should bring you all sorts of good things". Google book search. Retrieved September 25, 2018 .
  4. Rudolf Öller: Martin Luther's Christ Child. In: December 24, 2004, accessed December 24, 2019 .
  5. Gunther Schunk: Pelzmärtel and Herrscheklaus. (pdf; 11 kB) Volksblatt (Würzburg), June 12, 2002, accessed on December 12, 2011 .
  6. Article Pelzmaertel ; in Palatinate Dictionary , Volume 1, p. 694.
  7. Article Pelz (e) -Nickel ; in: Palatinate Dictionary, Volume 1, p. 694.
  8. ^ Manfred Becker-Huberti : Celebrations - Festivals - Seasons. Living customs all year round. Herder Verlag, special edition, Freiburg im Breisgau 2001, ISBN 3-451-27702-6 , p. 149 f.
  9. Really good. Retrieved November 22, 2019 (German).
  10. Manfred Becker-Huberti: Santa Claus lives. How he became what he is. Herder publishing house. Freiburg-Basel-Vienna 2004, ISBN 3-451-07035-9 , pp. 65-72.
  11. a b Markus C. Schulte von Drach: Who is this guy in red? The emigrated Sinterklaas ;, December 6, 2007, accessed on November 12, 2010.
  12. Markus C. Schulte von Drach: Who is this guy in red? Appearance of a cartoonist ; of December 6, 2007, accessed on November 12, 2010.
  13. How Abraham Lincoln invented Santa Claus -
  14. manager magazin: How Coca-Cola didn't invent Santa Claus
  16. Axel Kaune, Harald Bastian: Change Management with Organizational Development: Successfully Implementing Changes , Erich Schmidt Verlag, Berlin 2004, ISBN 3-503-07884-3 , p. 285. ( Scan from GoogleBooks)
  17. German Tenants' Association of November 29, 2014; Hanging Santa Claus: Can Santa Claus climb on tenant house facades?, November 29, 2014, edited December 12, 2017, accessed December 9, 2018.
  18. Santa Claus Denier Arrested Outside Church in Texas, December 9, 2018, accessed December 9, 2018.
  19. Fight for the real Santa Claus: Mustfiges aus Schokolade on December 3, 2006, accessed on December 1, 2018
  20. False rumor: Pointed cap man is supposed to replace Nicholas., November 5, 2015
  21. Cristina Helberg: Narrative of Disinformation: Migration displaces German traditions., December 3, 2019