'Tis the season, so today let's do something a bit fun and festive and look at the history of the modern Santa Claus suit!
The modern North American Santa is tied back to the figure of St. Nicholas; a canonized Catholic priest known for his generous gifts to the poor. The image of St. Nicholas is entirely different from our depictions of Santa, however - a tall, gaunt figure wearing the traditional robes of the Catholic priesthood.
A cartoonist living in New York City and working with Harper's Weekly, Thomas Nast, created the protoform for our modern Santa's appearance (including items such as his sleigh, simply because sleighs were how the wealthy traveled about Manhatten in the winter months in the 1860s): a rotund man wearing fur lined red jacket, matching pants, black boots and a black belt. Nast's works - including his drawings of Santa - were political in nature and thus were primarily intended to reflect his opinions (His Santa in particular, for example, was strictly an advocate for the Union war effort, with his outfit incorporating all of the iconic elements of the Union soldier's standard issue uniform).
In 1931, the Coca-Cola company contracted a commercial artist named Haddon Sundblom to create a Christmas ad for them. Sundblom drew inspiration from Nast's work (as well as from a number of artists who had been studying Nast up to that point) to create one of the company's most successful holiday promotions, effectively cementing that specific image in the public consciousness as the definitive picture of Santa Claus.
To be clear, Sundblom did not invent Santa Claus or the modern depiction of him for Coca-Cola - but he and coke certainly did popularize one specific interpretation of Santa's aesthetic to the point of it becoming THE universally recognized depiction of Santa.
Want a Santa suit fit for a tot? Try out this entirely free pattern:
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!