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The History of Santa Clause

He is known by many names; Santa Claus, St. Nick, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or just plain Santa. Regardless of what you call him, Santa is known as a legendary figure who brings presents to the homes of well behaved children on Christmas Eve. Did you ever wonder however about the history of this legend, or how Christmas is celebrated around the world? If so, feast on the following series before you settle down for your long winter’s nap.

The legend of Santa Claus began with a Christian monk named Nicholas who was born around 280 A.D. in what is now Turkey. Nicholas was from a rich family, but he gave away all he had to help the poor and sick. Nicholas was revered throughout his life, and the legend of his generosity and kindness grew over. For well over a thousand years he’s been known as St. Nicholas. He became the most popular Saint in Europe during the Renaissance, particularly among the Dutch who called him Sinter Klaas. (A nickname for the Dutch name St. Nicholas) The Dutch colonized much of New York before the American Revolution, and brought their traditions with them. By the late 1700s, Sinter Klaas became Americanized as Santa Claus.

During the 1500s during the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther introduced the idea that the Christkind (German for Christ child) would secretly come on Christmas Eve to present presents to all good children. Christkind was modified to Kris Kringle in the 1840s, and became a popular nickname in some countries for Santa Claus. Washington Irving’s 1809 book, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, first portrayed a pipe smoking Nicholas soaring over the rooftops in a flying wagon, delivering presents to good girls and boys. In 1822, a minister named Clement Clark Moore wrote a poem for his daughters entitled, An account of a visit from St. Nicholas. We know it today as “Twas the Night before Christmas.” Published a year later, it essentially “went viral.” In 1881, Thomas Nast, a famous illustrator, drew a cartoon of Santa that appeared in the most widely read journal of its day – Harper’s Weekly,. That image became the definitive one for the modern character of Santa Claus that we know today.

Tune in next time for another holiday helping, and to see the many different ways that Christmas is celebrated around the world.


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