What's The Secret Behind Santa Claus? History And Vocabulary List

Tori Tornreviewed byNataliia Afonina / more about Editorial Process11 min
Created: Dec 12, 2022Last updated: Jan 24, 2024
Santa Claus History And Vocabulary

Santa Claus is a well-known and beloved Christmas character. After years of advertisements popularizing the Big Guy with a white beard in red clothes, people all around the world can't imagine Christmas without his joyful laugh. Moreover, in English-speaking countries, such as the US, people even built their Christmas traditions around the character of Santa Claus. So, if you want to immerse in English fully, you should learn more about Santa Claus's history, his real name, and the vocabulary related to him. So, let's bring some jolly holly spirit by reading this holiday article!

Santa Claus History: The Man Who Comes Every Year

The history of Santa Claus begins with the legend of St. Nicholas, who is known as the protector of kids and sailors. 

It is believed that once in the territory of today Turkey, there lived a monk. He was born around A.D. 280 in Patara in the Roman Empire. His name was Nicholas. From an early age, he was a profoundly religious man. That is why he dedicated his life to serving God and helping people in need. His most well-known story was about when he saved three poor sisters from being sold into prostitution by presenting their father's dowries. Nicholas was canonized for his miracles in 1446 by Pope Eugene IV. Later he was claimed as a patron saint mainly of children and sailors. 

The tradition of presenting gifts to honor St. Nicholas on the evening before his name day of 6 December (the anniversary of his death) was born during the Middle Ages. However, the figure of St. Nicholas was introduced to American popular culture only in December 1773. Back then, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of St. Nicholas' death. People started to call him Santa Claus because of the Dutch version of his name, Sinter Klaas. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. Quickly after that, in 1820-1840, stores turned Christmas shopping into a marketing campaign using the famous Santa Claus figure. 

Is Santa Claus Real?

You will be in shock right now, but Santa Claus is real! Calm down; we didn't go crazy. Of course, like every human being, we want to believe in magic, but it's not the case. 

The thing is that one American man from a small town Valley Stream, New York, legally changed his name to Santa Claus in 2012. Before he made such a decision, his name was Frank Pascuzzi. But, as Santa Claus claims, the name change made his life better. So why did he do that?

Off the Christmas season, the man's main job is installing fire sprinklers. However, he is busy being a magical Santa Claus between September and January. As the man told in a 2018 Vice interview, he didn't like the thought that kids think he has got to be fake Santa. Instead, he wanted to have proof of his identity to demonstrate that he was real. So, now, Santa Claus can show his driver's license or credit card with his real name after legally changing his name. And that's how kids (and you, too) know that Santa Claus is real. 

The best part of this story is that Santa Claus loves to bring people not only lively and positive vibes. Every year he spends the weekend between Christmas and New Year visiting ill or challenged children and adults to support them. Isn't he extremely kind-hearted?

Different Names For Santa Claus

Now that you have familiarized yourself with the history of Santa, we can agree that Santa's real name is St. Nicholas. However, people in different countries and even in different parts of the same country use various Santa Claus names. The most popular names for Santa are Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, and Kris Kringle. If you want to know more names for Santa Claus, here is the list. 

List of different names for Santa:

Andorra: Tió de Nadal (Father Christmas)

Argentina: Papá Noel (Father Christmas)

Armenia: Dzmer Pap 

Australia: Father Christmas or Santa Claus

Austria: Saint Nikolaus

Belgium: Sinterklaas or Saint-Nicolas: 

Bolivia: Papá Noel (Father Christmas)

Brazil: Papai Noel (Father Christmas) or Bom Velhinho (Good Old Man)

Bulgaria: Dyado Koleda (Grandfather Christmas)

Canada: Kris Kringle

Chile: Viejito Pascuero

China: Dun Che Lao Ren (Christmas Old Man) or Lan Khoong Khoong (Nice Old Father)

Croatia: Sveti Nikola

Cuba: Santi Clo

Cyprus: Agios Vasilis

Denmark: Julemanden

Ecuador: Papá Noel (Father Christmas)

Estonia: Jõuluvana

Finland: Joulupukki (Christmas Goat)

France: Père Noël (Father Christmas)

Germany: Weihnachtsmann (The Christmas Man)

Georgia: Tovlis Papa (Father Frost)

Greece: Agios Vasilios (Saint Basil of Caesarea)

Haiti: Tonton Nwèl

Iceland: Jólasveinar (Yule Lads or Christmas Boys)

Italy: Babbo Natale (Daddy Christmas)

Japan: Santa Kurohsu (Santa Claus) and Hoteiosho

Latvia: Ziemassvētku vecītis (Christmas old man)

Liechtenstein: Christkind

Lithuania: Kalėdų senelis (The Christmas grandfather)

Luxembourg: Kleeschen

Malta: Missier il-Milied

Mexico: Pancho Claus

Norway: Julenissen

Paraguay: Papá Noel (Father Christmas)

Peru: Papá Noel (Father Christmas)

Poland: Święty Mikołaj

Portugal: Pai Natal (Father Christmas)

Romania: Moş Crăciun

Serbia: Bozic Bata

Slovakia: Svätý Mikuláš

Slovenia: Božiček

Spain: Papá Noel (Father Christmas)

Sweden: Jultomte or Tomte

Switzerland: Samichlaus

The Netherlands: Sinterklaas

The United Kingdom: Father Christmas

The United States of America: Santa Claus

Turkey: Noel Baba (Father Noel)

Ukraine: Sviatiy Mykolay (Saint Nicholas)

Uruguay: Papá Noel (Father Christmas)

Vatican City: Babbo Natale

Venezuela: Santo Clós


Santa Words You Need To Know

Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas is one of the main characters whose name you need to know in English to maneuver it during Christmas. However, to feel comfortable in English, you must also memorize some other words related to Santa Claus. So let's learn them together!

The North Pole

In reality, the North Pole is the northernmost point on the earth. But during Christmas time it is a place where Santa Claus lives. Why so? Because of the famous American cartoonist Thomas Nast. Between 1863 and 1886, he made 33 Christmas drawings published in Harper's Weekly magazine. One of them was a village called "Santa Claussville, N.P.," where N.P. meant the North Pole. 

At the end of the 19th century, the North Pole was perceived as a mystery land because no expeditions were completed until 1909. And since nobody really knew what was happening at the North Pole, but everyone was aware it was very snowy there, Thomas Nast decided it was a perfect place for Santa Claus to live in. 

Later, advertisements contributed to the image of the North Pole as Santa Claus's home. Today, Santa's official "North Pole" residence is located in the Arctic Circle, Finland. This location makes the magical place more accessible for visiting than the North Pole. 


A sleigh is a type of vehicle with runners for use on snow that reindeer, dogs, or horses pull. Typically, Santa Claus' sleigh is believed to be magical because it can fly. Also, the sleigh can fit the presents for all kids in the world and help the Big Guy to deliver them in one night. It is made of wood and decorated with Christmas elements. 


Reindeer is a type of deer with large branches-like horns in colder parts of the world, such as North America, northern Europe, and Asia. The reason why reindeer are so strongly associated with Santa Claus is that they are the ones who are believed to pull a magical sleigh through the night sky. In addition, they help Santa Claus deliver presents to kids all over the world just in one night. 

According to the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore, Santa has eight reindeer. Their names are Dasher, Comet, Dancer, Cupid, Prancer, Vixen, Blitzen, and Donner. However, because of the famous storybook and the Christmas song "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," people count Rudolph as a ninth Santa's reindeer. 


Elf is a mysterious creature with supernatural powers from folk tales. They are short individuals in human form with big pointed ears. However, there are different kinds of elves. And during the holiday season, we will take a closer look at Christmas elves. 

Christmas elves are Santa's little helpers who live at the North Pole. They are responsible for making toys for kids, taking care of reindeer, etc. they usually wear green-red clothes with pointy hats and shoes. For the first time, Christmas elves were introduced in literature in 1856, which makes them younger than Santa Claus.  

Santa's workshop

Santa's workshop is a magical place where Santa Claus, his wife, and his elves live and make toys to present to kids at Christmas. The workshop includes Santa's house and small toy manufacture. It is commonly believed that Santa's workshop is located at the North Pole. However, the location varies by different cultures. For instance, in Finland, kids send letters to Santa Claus to Lapland. 

Christmas stocking

A Christmas stocking is an empty sock decorated for the winter holiday season that is hung on Christmas Eve or Saint Nicholas Day to be filled with presents. Traditionally, people hang Christmas stockings above the fireplace, so it was more convenient for the Big Guy with a belly to stuff it with gifts, chocolates, fruits, etc. If you want to learn where this holiday tradition comes from, you can read this article. 

Naughty list

Santa Claus has two lists – the naughty list and the nice list, according to how kids behave during the year. Both are very long because every boy and girl is on it. The naughty list is the one that contains names of bad-behaved kids. Those kids don't get presents. Instead, Santa leaves pieces of coal in their Christmas stockings. To get on Santa Claus' nice list, kids should be kind to their siblings, offer to help their parents with household chores, clean up after themselves, do their homework, say thank you, make their bed, brush their teeth twice a day, etc. 


A chimney is a hollow vertical structure that carries smoke from a fireplace. But, once a year, it turns into a magical place that Santa Claus uses to deliver presents to kids. He lands his sleigh on the roof and comes down by the chimney. If there is no chimney in the house, Santa will still be able to leave the presents. How? He has a magical key that opens every door. 

Secret Santa

Secret Santa is an old and fun Christmas tradition of exchanging gifts anonymously. It is a common practice all over the world. Over the years, Secret Santa became especially popular among coworkers and friends. 

The gift-giving game has a small range of rules:

  • Writing down your gift suggestions.
  • Randomly assigning a Secret Santa to each person.
  • Throwing out a gift exchange party and guessing who your Secret Santa is.

The tradition is full of joy and positive emotion, so don't hesitate to give it a try this Christmas. By the way, living in the digital era, you can assign a Secret Santa to each player using Secret Santa Generator online. But the old variant with writing names on paper and picking them yourself seems more fun. 


Grinch is a Santa Claus' antipode who hates Christmas and doesn't want people to celebrate it. He became a well-known character after the kid's book "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" was published by Dr. Seuss in 1957. Grinch is depicted as a hairy green creature with a creepy smile. 

If you ask why Grinch hates Christmas so bad and wants to ruin it for everyone, you will not likely find one exact answer. As it said in the book, "no one quite knows the reason." Grinch has always been ill-natured and mean-tempered. He doesn't like people and their feelings of joy. So, no wonder Grinch decided to steal Christmas and make people miserable. 

Despite all his sins, people learned to love Grinch with all his abrupt attitude and sassy behavior. However, it is still not a compliment if someone calls you Grinch. Over the years, the name of the green man turned into a term that refers to a grumpy person with a greedy attitude. So, watch out!

Learn Santa Claus Vocabulary With Promova

The Christmas season is a perfect time to learn something new about holidays traditions and Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas. So, why not do that in English? Turn December into a month of intensive learning of Christmas history, Christmas lexicon, Santa Claus' history, and Santa vocabulary. The best partner in crime for it is the language learning platform Promova

On the Promova app, you can find several themed bite-sized lessons with adorable flashcards that will help you to memorize all the winter holiday vocabulary. Don't let yourself forget what eggnog is ever again. 

Also, on our platform, you can sign up for one of the tutoring programs – group course or individual lessons. In both cases, our certified native-level tutors will navigate you through the winter holiday history and traditions, introduce you to the main characters and expose you to necessary words and phrases, such as Santa vocabulary. 


Today, you've learned the history of Santa Claus and Santa's real name and expanded your vocabulary with some Santa words. Since you've found out that Santa Claus has different names, you won't be surprised when you come across one of them. From this moment, you will feel more confident, listening to Christmas songs, watching winter holidays movies, and reading Christmas stories from different countries. From now on, Christmas in English will seem more appealing to you than ever before. 


What language does Santa Claus speak?

Because Santa Clause is a well-traveled man, people believe he is multilingual. But, of course, he doesn't speak every language that exists today. Nonetheless, he is fluent in various languages. And believe it or not, even though Santa Claus is such a popular figure in the USA, English isn't his first language. If you think about it for another minute, it is actually pretty logical. 

Since it is believed that Santa Claus lives in Lapland, he has to be fluent in at least three Nordic languages. Because Lapland is the largest region of Finland that also partly covers Sweden and Norway, Santa has to speak Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian. 

If Santa Claus doesn't speak every language, how does he manage to answer the kids' letters from different countries, you ask. Apparently, his elf crew must do a lot of translation work for the Big Guy. 

What are Santa's famous words?

Unfortunately, Santa Claus doesn't have any famous sayings or quotes. We all know that he wishes everybody Merry Christmas, and that is pretty much it. However, Santa owns the signature laugh that he uses in every awkward and not really situation. Probably, you can already hear it in your head – Ho-Ho-Ho. Why is Santa's laugh so unique? Because it's an intense sound from his belly to express a jolly laugh. 

Does Mrs. Claus have a name?

It looks like Mrs. Claus doesn't go by a first name. Otherwise, we can't find a logical explanation that nobody knows her name. It's like she has always been married to Santa and doesn't need a first name. People close to Santa Claus` family say that the lady loves being Mrs. Claus and doesn't wish to be referred to as anything else. Nonetheless, over the years, writers all over the world came up with several variants of Mrs. Claus's first name. Among them are Gertrude, Jessica, and Holly. 

What is the most popular song about Santa Claus?

While we can't mark the most popular song about Santa Claus, we would say that "Santa Baby," released in 1953, could be the one. According to American Songwriter Magazine, the ten best songs about Santa Claus also include "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" by Dolly Parton, "Little Saint Nick" and "Santa's Beard" by The Beach Boys, "Santa Tell Me" by Ariana Grande, "Back Door Santa" by Clarence Carter, "Even Santa Claus Gets the Blues" by Marty Stuart, "Here Comes Santa Claus" by Gene Autry, "Santa, I've Got a Bone to Pick With You!" by Kristin Chenoweth and "Kidnap the Sandy Claws" from Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas." 


AYAANOct 11th, 2023
thank you for shedding light on the origins of Santa Claus
Grady BoyleJul 13th, 2023
What a delightful read! This article beautifully explores the origins and language connected to Santa Claus, offering a comprehensive understanding of how this beloved symbol has evolved over time.