This Is What Santa Claus Actually Looked Like, According to Science

Turns out Father Christmas isn't exactly what you pictured.

Father Christmas
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Depending on what pop culture depiction you prefer, the Santa Claus you imagine probably looks a lot like the guy Coca-Cola created in 1931 with their iconic ad campaigns. Or, perhaps you picture him like Tim Allen

But, thanks to Caroline Wilkinson, a forensic specialist at Liverpool John Moores University, we now have a rendering of what the real St. Nicholas looked like.

Good ol' Father Christmas was born in 270 AD in Patara, what is now modern-day Turkey. To create a sketch of his face, Wilkinson used "tissue depth information" from men from Turkey, coupled with CGI, according to Forbes

Her rendering doesn't look entirely different than the typical portrayal, besides the fact that his cheeks aren't ruddy like roses, he doesn't have a cherry nose, and there's no dimple, or twinkle in his eye, but at least the beard on his chin was "white as the snow."

But here's the kicker. While the real Saint Nick may have been jolly, he did not have "a little round belly that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly."

From the bones exhumed from St. Nick's tomb in Italy, we learned that he was 5'4″, with a trim physique. 

As explained in Bolletino di San Nicola, St. Nicholas had wide cheekbones, a broad forehead, and an angular chin. He also had decayed teeth and spinal and pelvic arthritis, which must have made climbing up and down those chimneys especially unpleasant. 

Santa, who became an orphan as a young tyke, grew up with his uncle, who was a bishop—a role that he ultimately took on—but his Christian faith got him sent to jail by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Apparently, he had several other brushes with the law, getting tossed in prison again for beating up another bishop. 

But over time, with many a charitable deed amassed, he became a mythical legend, with tales of his good deeds travelling to Europe. It was in the Netherlands in the Middle Ages that he got his name, Sinterklaas, as his folklore became popularized. 

Today, Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, children, wolves and pawnbrokers, to name a few. And of course, he's the guy who makes all those Hallmark movies possible. Not to mention all the smiles on tech savvy childrens' faces as they track his sled on Christmas eve. 

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As deputy editor, Brie oversees's lifestyle content including beauty, style, health, and relationships. When she's not helping to answer your google queries, you can likely find her watching Christmas movies, no matter the season.