The changing face of Old St Nick revealed through the last 700 years (but he's always had a big white beard)
01:51 GMT, 26 December 2012
After more than 700 years, quite a lot has changed in both the meaning and appearance of Christmas.
But when it comes to Old St Nick, ironically with his age, the one thing that may not have changed could very well be his big white beard as this unique collection of historical pictures show.
First pictured in the 4th century, in one seen example of a Russian icon dating to 1294, as history tells, St Nicholas Lipensky was a real man and bishop who would launch the many faces and stories we know today.
Original St Nick: This Russian icon dating back to 1294 shows Saint Nicholas Lipensky, a bishop born in Asia Minor known for his generosity toward children
Born in Asia Minor, he is remembered for his charitable giving, notably to children, in one instance providing anonymous dowries to three young girls to prevent them from entering prostitution.
For three nights he is said to have walked by their home, tossing a bag of money through an open window for them to find in the morning.
Today he is buried in the Italian city of Bari where his tomb is visited by thousands every year.
An annual ceremony since 1980 goes so far as to extract a clear liquid from his bones called the ‘manna of Saint Nicholas.’ According to the Catholic Church, the extract is said to hold healing properties.
Skipping ahead several hundred years to
1686, he is seen again as Father Christmas, a figure in English folklore
who rallied on the holiday spirit but had no association with gift
giving, nor toward children.
Father Christmas: Seen in 1686 is Father Christmas, a figure in English folklore who rallied on the holiday spirit but had no association with gift giving, nor toward children
American-Dutch rendition: In 1810 the New York Historical Society – then New Amsterdam – commissioning artist Alexander Anderson to sketch the saint as seen here
Then seen in Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas, his image was produced just after a ban on Christmas was removed in England over accusations that it was a symbol of 'Catholic superstition and godless self-indulgence.'
Evolving closer to at least the name we know today of Santa Claus, it was Dutch settlers in America that created the figure of 'Sinterklaas.'
In 1804, the Dutch influenced city of New Amsterdam – today known as New York City – named St Nicolas as their patron saint to both the city and New York Historical Society.
Several years later in 1810 the society held their first St Nicholas anniversary dinner, commissioning artist Alexander Anderson to sketch the saint for the event.
Its result is the bearded patron seen wearing a bishop's robe and halo above his head, while stuffed stockings hang by the fireside dangling presents.
Two children, a smiling little girl and a grumpy boy who’s pocketing a stick, are also pictured – the girl clutching items like a doll while the boy stands empty handed.
'Saint Nicholas, my dear good friend! To serve you ever was my end, If you will, now, me something give, I'll serve you ever while I live,' a few lines provided with Mr Anderson's sketch reads.
The Catholic Church would later call the Dutch's rendition of their saint a kind of ‘magician.’
Santa Claus: In 1863, famed American cartoonist Thomas Nast provided a sketch of this 'Santa Claus' passing out toys among American troops that appeared on the front page of Harper's Weekly
In 1863, famed American cartoonist Thomas Nast provided a sketch of 'Santa Claus' passing out toys among American troops that appeared on the front page of Harper's Weekly.
His today iconic fur-lined coat made an appearance, while seen featuring bannered stars, much like the American flag.
Later on, an elfish persona could be seen of the crafty and magical man, while coupled with reindeer, a sleigh, and a sack of toys over his shoulder – all compliments still of Mr Nast's imagination or at least wide use.
In an 1864 drawing, he's seen tiptoeing by a fireside in Clement Moore's poem, a Visit from St Nicholas.
In it, while keeping his suit with a fur-trimmed hat, his suit is yellow instead of red.
Various shades: In this 1864 drawing, he's seen tiptoeing by a fireside in Clement Moore's poem, a Visit from St Nicholas while wearing a yellow coat
Sugar plums: In 1868, Santa is seen wearing his red iconic coat while waving behind his sleigh of reindeer in an ad for Sugar Plums
Merry Old Santa: Several years later in 1881, this illustration by Mr Nast showed Chris Kringle lavished with a smoking pipe, rosy cheeks, Holy-topped hat, and fur-lined suit of red
Four years later in 1868, Santa is seen finally wearing red while waving behind his sleigh of reindeer in an ad for Sugar Plums – a treat perhaps most memorable today thanks to the poem (‘Twas) The Night Before Christmas first published in the early 1820s.
Just several years later in 1881, an illustration by Mr Nast lavished the man in intricate detail, from a smoking pipe, rosy cheeks, Holy-topped hat, and fur-lined suit of red.
He named him Merry Old Santa.
Entering the 20th century, several books, advertisements and magazine covers gradually began showing Santa like we see him most today – though in the beginning his coat's colour still was a matter of artistic opinion.
Artistic rendering: Entering the 20th century, several books, advertisements and magazine covers gradually began showing him like we see him most today – though his coat's colour still a matter of artistic opinion
Tiptoeing elf: Santa in a drastically turned form and character from how he first started is seen in this cartoon drawn in 1902
Modernizing: Santa is seen in this Canadian catalog released in 1906, with his iconic red outfit though a slightly different kind of hat than the one we see today
American icon: The cover of a 1913 Boy's Life magazine is seen showing Santa helped out by two Boy Scouts
Worldwide: In Japan, a picture in 1914 shows Old St Nick in the home of two small children
It was in the 1920s when the Coca-Cola Company began their Christmas advertising using a variation of Thomas Nast's depictions, though not sipping the carbonated beverage.
It was instead in the 1930s when the company took a loser approach to the man in red, painting him drinking from a bottle of Coke in a department store.
Assisted by the hand of artist Haddon Sandblom, the company then depicted the man delivering toys – as well as playing with them – visiting with children who stayed up late to meet him, and reading their letters.
The images later turned into calendars, dolls, and posters, which are popular collectables today.
Stretching symbol: Santa is seen rallying behind peace for Christmas in 1918 for the U.S. Food Administration
Behind the beard: Two drawings by Norman Stockwell, in 1920, left, and 1922, right, show Santa in more personal moments of his busy life
Styles: This 1930 magazine cover of the Queenslander appears to bring back the long Father Christmas coat
Man of war: This 1942 poster for the Office for Emergency Management, War Production Board, shows Santa out of his red coat and into a soldier's as he campaigns for the war effort
World peace: Seen in 1942, this power for the Office for Emergency Management, War Production Board, shows St Nick declaring peace for the world this holiday season