Christmas is almost here! The turkey's have been eaten, pies devoured, the weather has turned colder, and the jolly tunes of Christmas time once more fill the air. This joyous time of year brings with it warm food, time with friends and family, and the hustle and bustle of Christmas Day shopping. But, where does this tradition come from? Who is the jolly old man with the red suit? We take a look back to discover the origins ourselves.
Santa Claus started back very early in historical times with the real live person of St. Nicholas. Born around 280 AD, St. Nicholas was known for his generosity and helping the poor and needy. Stories abound of him giving away all his possessions to help others. One of the best known stories is that he saved 3 sisters from slavery by paying their dowry so they could marry. St. Nicholas became the most popular saint in Europe even after the Protestant Reformation and many celebrated him on December 6th, the anniversary of his death.
Traveling under the name of Sinter Klaas, this saint traveled to America in the latter part of the 18th century. Sinter Klaas, Dutch for Saint Nicholas, began to be celebrated by Dutch immigrants to the new world. By 1809, Saint Nicholas was declared to be the most patron saint of New York by Washington Irving in his book, The History of New York. This tradition began to expand in the 1820's when stores advertised Christmas shopping. By the 1840's, this was so popular that newspapers had to devote entire sections towards these advertisements.
But what about our modern pictures of Santa Claus? When did Saint Nicholas become Santa Claus? While it is hard to pinpoint when these ideas began to change, we can turn to where our idea of Santa Claus comes from in a poem. “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas”, written by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822, was originally made for his three daughters. This long poem, more commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” depicts Santa Claus as a jolly old elf who flies from house to house with the aid of his 8 flying reindeer. This depiction has expanded to the Santa's that we see in shopping malls, pictures, and even the big screen.
Santa Claus, or Kris Kringle as he came to be known in the movie, “Miracle on 34th Street” tells the story of a little girl who believes the man Kris Kringle is in fact the real Santa Claus. This is perhaps the most iconic version of Santa Claus that we have and is the one we see during the Macy Thanksgiving Parade. Throughout the world, there are many versions of Santa Claus such as Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, Father Christmas, and many other names. They all tell a similar story of a kind individual bringing presents to lucky and/or deserving children.
The magic of Christmas comes from helping each other and taking time to spend with our loved ones. The presents are a nice touch, but like St. Nicholas, the importance comes in the giving, not in the receiving. This Holiday Season, whether you leave out cookies for Santa Claus or carrots for his reindeer, make sure to also pour out your hearts to those in need.