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Many of us know that the story of Santa Claus stretches back centuries, but do you know some of the facts and fables that make up that rich history? From a devout bishop in the Mediterranean to the modern-day icon, here are five festive facts that help paint a picture of the evolution of Santa Claus over the years.

1. The Real Saint Nicholas

Santa Claus has his origins in a real historical figure: Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop born in the 4th century in modern-day Turkey. According to tradition, he was known for his deep faith and acts of generosity. The story goes that he was born into a wealthy Christian family and had an uncle who was a priest. After Nicholas’s parents died when he was young, he gave away his inherited wealth to needy people before following his uncle into the priesthood.

2. The Miracle Man

According to folklore, Nicholas performed incredible miracles during his lifetime, including healing a woman’s withered hand and appearing to save many people in life-threatening situations. He also providing dowry money to three poor sisters, which began the tradition of Christmas stockings. According to the tale, one night the sisters left their stockings drying in the fireplace and, knowing the family was very poor, Saint Nicholas threw three bags of gold coins down the chimney, which landed in their stockings.

Left: RTRO/Alamy. Right: North Wind Picture Archives / Alamy

3. Evolution of Santa Claus

The 1823 Clement Clarke Moore poem A Visit from St. Nicholas, better known as The Night Before Christmas, introduced a chubby, plump Santa arriving on the roof by a sleigh with reindeer, coming down the chimney and leaving gifts. This now-famous poem set the tone for the magic of Christmas through its whimsical, jovial wording. It also formed the foundation for the joyful, kid-friendly Santa and the flying reindeer friends we know and love today.

4. Santa’s Visual Identity

In the 1860s, political cartoonist Thomas Nast began a yearly tradition of including Santa Claus and Christmas-related art in Harper’s Weekly, and it rapidly grew in popularity. His renditions built on Moore’s verbal imagery to create the visual image of a joyous, round-bellied man with a sack of toys, a reindeer-pulled sleigh and a white beard. These illustrations started to resemble the visual representation of the Santa we recognise today.

5. Coca-Cola's Santa Claus

But the most iconic image of Santa Claus, with his red suit, rosy cheeks and snowy beard was largely popularised by Coca-Cola. In 1931, the company commissioned artist Haddon Sundblum to create an image for a Christmas advertisement. The artist changed Santa’s clothing, which was often portrayed as green, to more closely resemble the brand colour, and removed the gnomish features of the European tradition. The look was a hit, and Coca-Cola went on to produce stuffed animals, toys, oil paintings and various advertisements with Sundblom’s images, which helped to commercialise Santa Claus into the now iconic figure he is today. Much of this Coca-Cola merchandise has become collectibles found in museums around the world, including the Louvre.

Santa has captured our imagination over many years, and we’re so lucky that he and the team have joined us this year! In fact, he’s been busy keeping Santa’s Grove just right for your visit. He hopes you can join him!

There’s still time to experience our fairytale wonderland until 2 January, including Enchanting Christmas shopping and dining rewards until 26 December! Click here for more.