The backroom team at the North Pole are getting everything prepared. In the stables, hoofs are being inspected and sleigh runners greased. In the laundry, the red suit is being pressed and the black boots are being shined. But this wasn’t always the go-to look for the gift-giving frontman.
Saint Nicholas’ style
One of Santa’s main stylistic forefathers is Saint Nicholas. In this image, dating from 1294, he is seen sporting a white beard and his clothing is, at least in part, red.
Nicholas, who hailed from Lycia in what is now Turkey, became associated with children and giftgiving as result of two different stories.
The more widely known is that Nicholas saved three girls from being forced into prostitution by giving their indebted father three bags of gold.
The lesser known story, according to historian Gerry Bowler, who has written a whole book devoted to Santa, is that Nicholas pickled the bodies of three boys who had been murdered, resurrecting them. This scene is pictured in paintings such as the Three Legends of Saint Nicholas by Gerard David.
While Nicholas was a popular figure during the Middle Ages, after the Reformation he was largely forgotten in much of northern Europe. This presented a problem for parents, according to Bowler.He said: “That was problematic. You still love your kids, but now who is going to bring them the gifts?” In some cases, Bowler says, that role fell to baby Jesus.