Have you ever wondered what Santa Claus really looked like? Image Foundry, a UK partnered Indian firm which specialises in CGI, used Artificial Intelligence to create an image of Santa using X-ray and measurement data provided by the Vatican. This is what he really (probably) looked like.
Not even close to what you imagined, eh? Well then how did he end up looking like this?
There is a perfectly good explanation behind this, and it has got to do with capitalism. Surprised?
Saint Nicholas, the real Santa Claus, was a Christian saint who lived around 300 A.D in modern-day Turkey. He was made popular in Europe by the Dutch who called him Sinterklaas. And those Dutch immigrants who took this idea to America turned that name into Santa Claus, as we know him today. Saint Nicholas was a very generous man who left gifts secretly at the doorsteps of the poor. The legend goes that he rescued 3 girls from being sold by their father by dropping a sack of gold coins into their house. And this is why the gift-giving tradition during Christmas.
Clement Clarke Moore, published a poem in 1823, titled ‘A visit from St. Nicholas’, which portrayed the saint as a jolly old man with a big belly and a cheerful attitude. The poem narrates the story of a family that is settling down to sleep on Christmas eve when the father hears something on the lawn outside. Lo and behold, it was Santa Claus in an airborne sleigh and 8 reindeers, trying to squeeze in through the chimney carrying a sack of toys for the kids. And that’s why the sleigh and reindeers.
But what about the costume? Well, Saint Nicholas was a bishop. So, he most probably wore a robe during his time. Was it red in colour? We don’t know. But it wasn’t until 1881 that a robe came to be associated with Santa. Thomas Nast, a popular cartoonist who worked for Harper’s Weekly in New York, published this infamous cartoon image of Santa Claus wearing a robe in the January 1, 1881 edition of the weekly newspaper. His robe was initially tan in colour, but he slowly made revisions to it and finally, it became red.
And after that, it was good old capitalism that propelled the image forward. In 1931, Coca-Cola hired Michigan-born artist Haddon Sundblom to design advertisements feature Santa Claus. Haddon drew Santa Claus donning a red-and-white suit that conveniently echoed its own product’s colours.
And that’s how he came to be!