Santa Claus may have a home in the imaginations of children across Western civilization, but the origins have a very real location. Almost every parent and child is familiar with Jolly St. Nick, and some are even acquainted with the man, Saint Nicholas; but few actually know the history of this illustrious saint.
To begin with, Saint Nicholas originally was not associated with the Christmas holidays, as they did not exist in 200-300 A.D. Yet, the historical figure was renowned for his piety and kindness, according to The History Channel. Saint Nicholas was a monk who lived Myra, or modern-day Turkey. His love for children had arisen from a story where he revived three children, according to Real Truth magazine. Another legend floating around the man is that he had paid the dowry for three kidnapped sisters who were likely on the verge of being sold as slaves.
The term “Santa Claus” originates from the Dutch “Sinter Klass,” which was short of the Dutch version of Saint Nicholas. The Dutch version portrays the saint as having a long white beard, a red bishop’s hat, and a portly figure. The name “Santa” shows up in Langer’s Encyclopedia of World History as a name for Nimrod, as well as a fire deity who descended chimneys.
Saint Nicholas was generally celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church on December 6th, to celebrate the saint. The generous saint was not associated with gift-giving or with Christmas Eve until American media took hold of the idea. Washington Irving, legendary storyteller of 18th century America, began the snowball effect in cultural views with his depictions of St. Nick. Through books, such as, “The Knickerbocker History of New York,” Irving formed a new slate on which pop culture could change Saint Nicholas.
Now known as Santa Claus, newspapers of the early 1800’s began advertisements for Christmas shopping, with Saint Nicholas as the figure head, especially geared for children. An Episcopal minister, Clement Clarke Moore, has written the original “Night Before Christmas” for his daughters, titled: “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” In this poem, Saint Nicholas remarkably resembles modern-day Santa.
By the late 1800’s, the Salvation Army had been using the Santa figure to collect donations during the Christmas season, while commercial venues continued to popularize even further the concept of a jolly old man in a red suit delivering toys for good boys and girls world-wide. Saint Nicholas has come a long way, from starting out as a very real man in Turkey, to a now fictitious gift-giver.