The image of a big-bellied jolly bearded man in red carrying a large sack of gifts always brings a smile to children around the world during Christmas. This man is more popularly known as Santa Claus, but is also called Father Christmas, Pere Noel, and Saint Nicholas. To people everywhere, Santa Claus is a symbol of the spirit of gift giving in Christmas. His association with gifts is so strong that most gift wrappers are colored red, a homage to his bright red suit.

Saint Nicholas of Myra

Why does Santa wear red? The exact reason is not certain. There are many stories about this, but none is more probable than the story of Saint Nicholas of Myra – a fourth-century Christian bishop who was famous for inheriting a fortune, and giving all his riches away to the poor. Because of this, he eventually became the patron saint of children.

The fact that Saint Nicholas had been a pope was an influence on how the modern-day Santa Claus is depicted. Popes in olden times wear red robes and a red miter. Sinter Klaas, as he was popularly called in Dutch, was not depicted as a laughing big-bellied bearded man at that time. He was a benevolent saint whose religious purpose was to teach the virtue of gift giving. His Dutch name, Sinter Klaas, was eventually Anglicized into Santa Claus.

The 19th Century Santa Claus

The basis of how Santa Claus is drawn by artists and portrayed in movies comes from the 19th century poem of Clement Clark Moore, The Night Before Christmas or A Visit From Saint Nicholas. In it he describes Santa as a man “dressed all in fur from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.” The color of the suit was not specified though.

It was the artist, Thomas Nast, who first drew Santa the way we see him today based on Moore’s poem. George P. Webster made five of Nast’s drawings into colored lithographs. Santa was portrayed as an overly fat, happy, white-bearded elf, wearing a spotted red-brown, skin-tight suit, the base of the jacket trimmed in white fur lined with spots or attachments just below a red sash. The poem identified Santa’s home as the North Pole.

Santa Claus Why Does Santa Wear Red?

The Coat Made of Red Deerskin and White Ermine Fur

Since Santa Claus was thought to live in the North Pole, it is normal to expect him to wear warm clothes. People often wear coats made of deerskin and fur in cold places. Legend has it that Santa Claus met a squire who had a splendid suit of red deerskin trimmed with soft white ermine fur around the collar, the cuffs, and the bottom, with the same fur around the close-fitting hat.

Santa wanted the same type of suit, but he was not as rich as the squire, so he asked the village’s seamstress to make the same suit for him. The seamstress used a bolt of strong woven cloth dyed a rich red and white rabbit skin for the trimmings.

The seamstress, however, made a mistake of creating a suit for a larger man. That is why the previous image of Saint Nick is of a slimmer man wearing a loose coat of red held together by a belt around the waist.

Father Christmas

However, Santa wasn’t always wearing red before the 19th century. In times of the Celts and Saxons, a man they call Father Christmas or Old Winter and dressed in green used to visit homes in celebration of the midwinter solstice. Green is the color of spring and this man who wears it represents the welcoming spring. He was neither a bringer of gifts, or someone who climbed down a chimney. He simply went from one house to another to eat dinner with families.

Santa Claus Wore Blue

But did you know that in Norse tradition, Santa used to wear a long blue hooded cloak? The Norse believed Father Christmas to be Odin disguised in his Winter form as a portly, elderly man with a white beard riding through the world on his eight-legged horse Sleipnir at solstice. Just like the modern Santa Claus, however, he also carried a satchel of riches, which he distributed to the worthy or the poor.

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