Christmas traditions go back far and wide, and there’s not even that much sense behind a lot of them anymore. If anything, we’ve lost the meaning behind many of the rites and rituals we still practice today during the holiday season to the passage of time -- but kissing under mistletoe and hiding pickles in our Christmas trees is cute and fun, so we do it all anyway.
One aspect of Christmas folklore, though, can be traced to a direct cause and effect; there’s a reason Santa Claus lives and works at the North Pole with his reindeer and elves, of all places.
We basically have one man to thank: Thomas Nast, a German-born American cartoonist. Nast took it upon himself to paint of picture of Saint Nicholas, whose stories had already been passed down to represent our version of Santa Claus. The St. Nick we know today is based on a fourth-century bishop living in a Roman town where Turkey is now who supposedly went around in red robes passing out gifts and coins just for fun.
Nast, who submitted no less than 33 drawings of what he thought Saint Nicholas looked like to Harper’s Weekly over 23 years, came up with one that stuck. It appeared in a December 1866 issue and depicted Santa Claus with his suit, sack and jolly belly -- he even came up with the idea of a workshop and naughty-and-nice-list.
Nast went so far as to determine a home for Mr. Claus. By this time in history, Santa was already known to fraternize with reindeer -- we can thank poet Clement C. Moore for writing “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (or “The Night Before Christmas”) in 1823.
Everyone knows reindeer live in cold places, and Christmas was already associated with wintry temperatures and snow, so it was only right that Santa Claus live among them. The North Pole became an attractive storytelling device simply because of its weather patterns and mystery -- no one knew what was there, so anything (or anyone) could be there.
The only thing we knew about the Arctic Circle and, therefore, the North Pole, was that it was cold and covered in snow. Although expeditions to the Arctic during the 1840s and 1850s were popularly broadcast, no one reached the top of the world until Robert Peary in 1909. Nast simply started turning the North Pole into a magical place before then.
So, it’s not so much as Santa lives for pristine ski conditions or likes his privacy -- it was all about the magic of storytelling.