Santa Claus must have the best PR agent of anyone. Look at it this way, the jolly gentleman has been gracing holiday seasons for over 1600 years.
What other celebrity can boast that kind of staying power? Certainly none of our modern television or movie stars have enjoyed that sort of fame.
Did you know that our modern Santa Claus is probably based on a real, historic person? Most accounts identify St. Nicholas, a beloved third century bishop who lived in what is now Turkey, as the true basis for the Santa Claus legend.
As the story goes, rather than giving toys to children, the historical Santa Claus helped young women who were too poor to afford dowries by giving them the gold that they needed to get married. He got the gold to the women by dropping it down their chimneys. This remarkable kindness was important because in that time and culture unmarried women did not fare well.
How did St. Nicholas become associated with Christmas?
The birthday of St. Nicholas is on December 6th. Over time, the celebration for the saint’s birthday and the Christmas holiday became identified with one another. Many cultures have adopted a Santa-like figure in their popular culture. Just a few popular variations include: Father Christmas (United Kingdom and many other parts of the world), Papá Noel (Latin America and some other parts of the world), Grandfather Frost (Russia, and many eastern European countries).
While the Santa Claus story is old, today’s Santa, as popularly depicted in advertisements, didn’t really exist until the early 19th century. Some historians credit the Clement Clarke Moore’s famous poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” as the origin of the modern Santa. Others give the credit to cartoonist Thomas Nast, who published a drawing of Santa in an 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly. A few give the credit for our contemporary Santa to popular Coca Cola advertisements showing Santa with a Coke in hand, although this has been debunked. (See this article on Snopes.com).
Okay, so admittedly, Santa Claus doesn’t really have a PR agent. We know that. There is, however, a powerful PR lesson to be learned from the popularity of Santa Claus over the years.
In my opinion, the true lesson is this — Never underestimate the power of good will. The Santa story started with an act of remarkable kindness that has endured to this day and remains a part of popular Christmas tradition.
Learn more about the history of Santa Claus from these fascinating articles:
- From History.com, The Legend of Santa Claus
- From the St. Nicholas Center, The Origin of Santa Claus
- From History.com, Origins of Santa Claus
- From Wikipedia, Santa Claus
Why do you think that the Santa story has endured for so long? Share your thoughts in the comments.