Why does Santa Claus wear red?

Yes, I’m aware of all the iconography where he wears other colors; but putting that aside, why is he frequently depicted wearing red? The rest of his outfit I get: black leather boots and belt, white trim presumably ermine originally. But what makes up the balance of his coat and pants? Red fur? Dyed leather? Red cloth or velvet, in which case why usually red? IIRC, 19th century illustrations of Clement Moore’s “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” depict him wearing red long underwear- why was long underwear usually red? I gather that Saint Nicholas was traditionally depicted wearing luxuriously fine vestments such as a patriarch of the Orthodox Church might wear in cold climates; was red an expensive prestige color originally?

Saint Nicholas was a Bishop. Bishops wear red. And yes, they wear red because it used to be a color reserved to people with the highest political positions: the purpura dye was both super-expensive and actually restricted by law to specific people, in the Roman Empire (original or splits).

Pupura dye might be expensive, but that’s for purple: Red dye is cheap (you can get it from beets, for example).

I think it’s just as simple as wanting to wear a bright, cheerful color, to contrast with the general drabness of winter.

The modern American image of Santa Claus has virtually nothing to do with Saint Nicholas.

Santa was first depicted wearing a red suit by the cartoonist Thomas Nast in the 1880s. The image was further popularized and standardized by ads for Coca-Cola in the 1930s.

The fact that red and green became the standard Christmas colors is probably related to the use of holly, and which retains its green leaves and red berries during the winter, for decorations.

To hold up his pants. Wait… that’s not it.

This is it. There’s 12 inches in a foot, and a ruler is a foot, and Queen Elizabeth is ruler… no, that’s not it either.

Because red is the old black maybe?

Because, prior to the development of coal-tar dyes, there weren’t any other cheap color-fast dyes.

And perhaps because dying cotton red was easier than chlorine bleaching to make it white? Or because red underwear doesn’t show stains as easily as white or unbleached cotton?

This. St. Nicholas was a real person, and the Bishop of Myra, known for charity to the poor, paying the dowries of young women so their parents didn’t sell them to sex traffickers, and KTFOing that heretic Arias at the Council of Nicaea.

Plus, Red just looks festive.

The American Santa Claus, although named after the Dutch, owes something to the English Father Christmas, who wore red or green. Father Christmas is a secular saint… he represents eating, partying, and hanging out. He’s the non-religous part of christmas. When sections of the Christian Church were trying to suppress traditional pagan holidays like christmas, (and holy-days in general), Father Christmas was the reaction.

“The actual color of Tyrian purple seems to have varied from a reddish to a bluish purple. According to the Roman writer Vitruvius, (1st century BC), the murex coming from northern waters, probably murex brandaris, produced a more bluish color than those of the south, probably murex trunculus. The most valued shades were said to be those closer to the color of dried blood, as seen in the mosaics of the robes of the Emperor Justinian in Ravenna.[…]What seems to have mattered about Tyrian purple was not its color, but its luster, richness, its resistance to weather and light, and its high price.”
Looks like it could be very red to me…

What made purpura sought after was its lightfastness - beet is not very lightfast at all. There are other lightfast reds (madder, for one) but they’re not as deep a colour and not as expensive.

The colors deriving their name from purpura vary from language to language. English purple tends to bluish shades; Spanish púrpura is deep reds which many English speakers would call maroon; French pourpre is bluer than the Spanish colors but redder than the English ones. In this case the wavelength shifted along with language.

Of course, there’s always the Norse god Odin…

He was a cheerful old guy with a beard, often depicted wearing red.

At Yule, Odin would ride across the sky on his eight-legged horse, leading the gods on a wild hunt…

… but that couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Santa, could it? ;)

Beet color might fade, but it’s so cheap that you could just re-dye the garment whenever that happens. I expect that the cloth would wear out before the cost of repeated dyeings would add up to even one purpura dyeing. And there are other reds you can use, too, which would last longer than beet but still be cheaper than purpura.

Also note that if it’s sunlight that’s causing the fading, it’ll last a lot longer on a winter garment.

TAN: A good page about Tyrian purple, with an image of what the cloth looks like.

You’d basically be re-dying on a weekly basis, beet is that fugitive.

The expense is the purpose.

OTOH, snow bleaches fabric.

I’m not going to trust the rigour of a site that tells me indigo originated from a snail-based dye.

We do have actual extant purpura-dyed pieces, like this.

He seems to be talking about a specific indigo-coloured dye, ‘the indigo dye of H. Trunculus’, which comes from a shellfish, rather than the indigo dye from the indigo plant.

Yes, there are all those depictions of Santa with one eye…:wink:

I’ve seen some nice green versions.

Huh, I’ve never seen an accidental beet stain fade that quickly.

I still stand by my claim that it’s just for the sake of being bright and colorful. While some upper crusters no doubt wore purpure just because it was expensive, for the sake of showing off, that doesn’t really fit with the image of St. Nicholas.

“It’s all about the sun, master. White snow and red blood and the sun. Always has been.”


Albert spat over the side of the sleigh. “Hah! ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice If Everyone Was Nice,’ eh?”