The History of Santa Claus

Table of contents

    The history of Santa and Christmas

    For many, December is often a magical time of year; in many parts of North America, snow glistens off the moon light, wood fires burn to keep homes warm and toasty, adults look forward to a nice rum and eggnog after a long day at work, and children enjoy an array of winter activities while also on their best behavior in order to impress the Jolly old man they know as Santa Claus.

    How did this jolly fellow come to be?

    The History of the man we now call Santa Claus dates as far back as 280 A.D. Saint Nicholas, a bishop who is believed to have been the very beginning of Santa, was Born in Patara and later moved to Myra (in modern day Turkey). Saint Nicholas was known for his immense generosity and was remembered long after his death on Dec. 6, as a very selfless and giving man.In one particular story, Saint Nicholas wanted to help a poor nobleman provide dowries for his three daughters, but he wanted to do it anonymously (as he was generous for the joy of giving). Therefore, he threw three bags of gold through the nobleman's window. Although meant to be anonymous, somehow the nobleman found out who had given the gold for his daughters, and this one act of kindness that eventually lead to anonymous gifts of charity being attributed to Saint Nicholas. His popularity spread across Europe and he became known as the protector of children. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to get married or make extravagant purchases. As the Renaissance approached, St. Nicholas was the most popular European Saint. Despite religious differences, he always held a great reputation, especially in Holland.Saint Nicholas entered American culture through Dutch settlers in New York, and over time he has changed significantly. The name Santa Claus even evolved from Nicholas’s Dutch nickname – “Sinter Klaas”. This was a shortened form of “Sint Nikolaas” – Dutch for Saint Nicholas. In 1809, Washington Irving popularized Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in a booked he’d written titled, “The History of New York”. As stories of Sinter Klaas grew, he was was described in a variety of different forms. Such as a “rascal” with a blue hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a pair of Flemish trunk hose. Originally, in the days of Saint Nicholas, he was dressed in his traditional Bishop's robes. It wasn't until the 20th century that Sinter Klaas began to be described as dressed in a red and white outfit. In fact, and American cartoonist named Thomas Nast drew him in a brown suit with brown fur trim. Additionally, America’s Santa Claus was not the only St. Nicholas-inspired gift-giver to make an appearance in different cultures over time. Many similar figures have been popular all over the world. Christkind or Kris Kringle was a man believed to deliver presents to well-behaved boys and girls in Switzerland and Germany. Translating as “Christ child,” Christkind was an angel-like figure who often accompanied St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavian countries, a jolly fat elf called Jultomten was thought to deliver gifts in a sleigh with goats instead of reindeer. As the English would have it, Father Christmas visited each home on Christmas Eve to fill the stockings of children with holiday treats. Pere Noel, known by French children fulls shoes with treats each year, in Russia, many believe that an elderly woman named Babouschka gave the three wise men (known in the Christian Bible) wrong directions to Bethlehem so that they couldn’t find Jesus. However, she felt remorseful and went to look for the men but couldn’t find them. Therefore to this day, it is believed that on January 5, Babouschka visits the beside of Russian children leaving gifts in hopes that one of them will be baby Jesus and she will be forgiven for what she’d done. Lastly, Italy has a similar story about a woman called La Befana. She was a kind witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italians to deliver toys into the stockings hanging by the fire place. The idea of gift giving, mainly centered around children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the beginnings of Saint Nicholas. As time evolved into the 19th century, stores began to advertise Christmas shopping, and by the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements. These often featured images of the newly-modern day Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed a way to pay for the Christmas meals that they provided to vulnerable families, therefore they began the idea of dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them into the streets of New York to gather donations for the Salvation Army, and ever since, those Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of north American cities all over! Given Santa’s long history of kindness and giving, it’s no wonder Christmas is such a magical time of year full of good spirit and cheer. To all of you who have little ones, don’t forget to bring them to visit Santa at the malls around Calgary this year! From everyone at ABM College, we wish you all a magical holiday season!

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