Santa Claus is an identifiable figure all over the world. He's been around for quite some time, so many aspects of his character have become rather iconic. From his white beard and red clothes, everyone associates these features with him.
However, even more iconic than what he wears is what he says. When people think of Santa's voice and what he says, we can't help but imagine of his famous catchphrase, "Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas!" We know what Merry Christmas means, but what does he mean when he says "ho ho ho"?
In truth, "ho ho ho" doesn't mean anything. It's actually just the sound of Santa Claus's laughter.
It might sound strange to us to hear someone laughing like this, since most people's laughter sounds more like "ha ha ha" instead of "ho ho ho". But it makes perfect sense for Santa Claus to laugh this way, because he is a jolly old man!
Santa Claus has a deep voice. He chuckles as he holds his round belly, and the sound comes out as a low-pitched "ho ho ho". When he does this, he is expressing his immense happiness with boisterous laughter.
Santa Claus laughs so much because he is an incredibly happy man. He loves his job, because he gets to spread the joys of gift-giving to all the well-behaved children around the globe. Being able to do what you love all the time will make anyone erupt in laughter at any moment.
Laughing with a "ho ho ho" while he rubs his belly has been Santa's thing for some time, but did he always laugh like that? Well, people's laughter changes all the time. We start laughing like our best friends, because we like them, or our laughter changes naturally as we grow up.
It seems like jolly ol' Saint Nick is the same way. He may have learned to laugh like this from the King of Goblins. The King of Goblins is a character from a Charles Dickens novel called The PickWick Papers, which was published in 1836. In that novel, the mischievous goblin king laughs just like Santa Claus does—with a hearty "ho ho ho". It's highly likely that Santa and the goblin king know each other, because in the novel, the goblin king appeared in front of another character on Christmas Eve.
Later on in 1867, a song about Santa Claus's helper, Kris Kringle, was published in Fresh Laurels for the Sabbath School by William Batchelder Bradbury. In that song, Kris Kringle rides Santa's sleigh and laughs with an "Oh ho, oh ho, ho ho ho ho."
It's possible that Bradbury may have unknowingly been referring to Santa Claus, when talking about Kris Kringle. Kris Kringle is what Santa Claus is known as in some parts of the United States. If the Kris Kringle in the song really is Santa Claus himself, then he's been laughing with a "ho ho ho" since 1867!
He's also been quoted saying "ho ho ho" in stage plays, newspapers, and books from the 1900s on. Sometimes, other characters that star in the stories with him laugh like he does. So, it's a little hard to tell if he picked up his iconic way of laughing from his friends or if his way of laughing rubbed off on others.
However, people rarely heard Santa laugh until 1932, when the animated short film Santa's Workshop came out. Santa Claus had been on the silver screen before then, but film didn't have any sound until 1927. In the short film, we can hear Santa Claus's lively laughter as he gets the toys ready for Christmas Eve. Despite the deep, boisterous laughter, it sounds less like "ho ho ho" and more like "ha ha ha".
Santa seemed to have a more common way of laughing back then, but we see the transformation of his laughter in every movie and show he appears in since then. For example, in the English version of the 1959 film Santa Claus, his laugh is deeper and he always sounds like he's on the verge of going "ho ho ho."
By the time we get to the beloved 1970 film Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town, we hear a young Santa Claus laugh with a "ho ho ho" in the movie, though not as often as he would as he grows older. After that, it becomes more common to see Santa laugh in his familiar way every time he appears on TV or in a movie.