There are many different Santa Claus traditions.
Santa’s first appearance in the media was in 1773. Santa’s first appearance in the Macy’s Day Parade was in 1924 (the year the parade first appeared).
Speaking of appearances, there’s a lot of controversy around that. You might not think so since Santa is (currently) typically portrayed as large, white bearded, red robed, and sitting in a mall. Early photo evidence of the real Santa (circa 1202 BCE) shows him as a tiny little elf – small enough to easily slide down chimneys, even the ones that haven’t been cleaned in a while. Today’s depiction of The Santa requires more magic and more imagination to make the physics work.
Thomas Nast is probably responsible for Santa’s look. In 1863, his illustration of Santa post-weight gain appeared in Harper’s Weekly magazine. And as we know, if it’s in print, it must be true.
Further solidifying (pun intended) Santa’s hefty image, the Coca-Cola company began using Santa in its Christmas advertising in the 1930s. The images were drawn by Haddon Sundblom and showed him looking much like he does now. There a lovely urban legend (and by “lovely urban legend” I mean “a bunch of hooey”) that says that Santa wears red and white to promote the Coke brand. I’m sure Coca-Cola doesn’t object to the colors, but that’s not the origin of the red and white (read this post if you’ve forgotten already).
In the United States and Canada, children traditionally leave Santa a glass of milk and a plate of cookies; in Britain and Australia, he is given sherry or beer and mince pies. In Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, children leave him rice porridge with cinnamon sugar. In Ireland, people generally put out Guinness or milk, along with Christmas pudding or mince pies. Guess where Santa likes traveling best? And regardless of The Big Man’s preferences, dieting is not easy if you’re The Claus.
As we know, Santa lives at the North Pole (it turns out that Thomas Nast may have been the inventor of that too). According to the Canadian postal system, Santa lives just within the Canadian North Pole-ish border (postal code H0H 0H0). Speaking of Canada, the Canadians have officially given Santa citizenship so he can reenter the country at the end of his annual trip. The US postal service says the zip code for Santa’s North Pole house is 99705. Points to Canada for cleverness.
The folks in Norway claims Santa lives in Drøbak. The folks in Denmark say he lives in Greenland (near Uummannaq). The folks in Finland say Korvatunturi is Santa’s home. Folks in other parts of the northland are too cold to weigh in on the subject. To the best of my knowledge, no one on the equator claims Santa resides nearby.
Mrs. Claus was created in 1889 by Katharine Lee Bates (a poet) who cleverly wrote about her in a poem. I have not yet found any reasonable documented evidence that they have ever had children. Perhaps I can create their children in a blog and become famous. Perhaps not.
The most famous (and by “famous” I mean people know about it and it had a huge impact) poem about Santa Claus is “A Visit From Saint Nicholas” (also known as “The Night Before Christmas”) published 1823. The poem may have been written by Clement Clarke Moore or Henry Livingston, Jr, but it might have been (and by “might have been” I mean “probably”) was written by the aforementioned Thomas Nast. This is where we are first introduced to flying reindeer (but you probably don’t know their original names).
In the 1860s, President Abraham Lincoln asked the ubiquitous Thomas Nast to draw Santa with Union soldiers. As you might imagine, this didn’t exactly make the Confederate soldiers feel all warm and fuzzy. Santa as psychological warfare is a weird concept if you ask me.
And we couldn’t talk about Santa without talking about Francis P. Church, Editor of the New York Sun, who in 1897 wrote an editorial in response to a letter from an eight year-old girl, Virginia O’Hanlon. She had written the paper asking whether there really was a Santa Claus (because as we all know, if it’s in print it must be true) and he responded with the “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” editorial.
The whole “naughty or nice” concept seems to have come from the 1934 song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
Anything more recent than that is pure speculation and heaven knows I include nothing but fact here.
The reindeer were originally named: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem (Dunder and Blixem came from the old Dutch words for thunder and lightning, which were later changed to Donner and Blitzen).