The Tradition of Santa Claus

Christmas is coming, and many take great joy in following the tradition of giving gifts from a jolly man named Santa Claus who lives in the North Pole and drives a flying sled led by reindeer. 

While the story of Santa Claus is fun and magical, it did originate with some truth – well, according to widely recognized historical documents and websites (Enter: If you haven’t heard of the story of  Santa Claus, aka, Saint Nicholas who gave gifts to children in Europe centuries ago, now is your chance to learn a little bit of history about the big guy up north.

Saint Nicolas was born in 270 AD to parents who were very wealthy in the Greek village of Patara, which is now part of Turkey. Unfortunately, his parents passed away when he was a child due to a disease epidemic that swept through the country. Nicholas became a Bishop at an early age and later was awarded Sainthood. He used his inheritance to give toys to the kids and help the poor and sick with gifts. Children started putting out socks hoping to receive gifts from Saint Nicholas. Throughout his life he was noted for his generosity and love of children.

When he passed away at the age of 73 on December 6, 343 AD, a tradition of a feast and gift giving began. Later in European history the date was moved to December 25 to coincide with the traditional Christian belief regarding the birth of Jesus. So that is why we hang stockings, exchange gifts, and have a Christmas dinner feast

Saint Nicholas’s grave was reportedly confirmed by archeologists in early October of this year, 2022. The tomb was located under Saint Nicholas Church in Demre, Antalya Province in Turkey. It was found under the church’s mosaic during a survey with Nichols’ bones in the tomb.  It had been thought for centuries that his bones had been moved to Italy during the First Crusade in the eleventh century.

The name Santa Claus comes from the Dutch nickname Sinter Klass. The sleigh idea originated in Scandinavia with jolly elves delivering gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats and later domesticated caribou, commonly called reindeer. Those Christmas traditions were brought to New Amsterdam, now called New York by early immigrants. 

The modern rendition of Santa Claus was the result of a story by Clement Clark Moore for his three daughters titled An account of a visit from Saint Nicholas in 1822. It was published as The Night Before Christmas by New York’s Troy Sentinel. 

In 1863 cartoonist Thomas Nest working for Harper’s Weekly did a caricature of Santa based on The Night Before Christmas. That story featured reindeer pulling Santa’s Sleigh flying to roof tops. 

The image that is most recognized today of Santa as a rotund old man with a white beard in a red suit, was credited to a Coca-Cola advertisement created by Haddon Sundblum in 1933. The ninth reindeer, Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer was the result of a 1939 book by Robert Lee May. May’s brother-in-law adapted the story into a song which became a number one hit record by Gene Autry in 1949. Autry’s recording sold 2.5 million copies  that December and eventually 25 million copies. 

No matter how you celebrate the Christmas season, whether it includes Santa, or if you have other religious or seasonal celebrations, a lot can be learned from “Jolly old St. Nicolas,” and that is the spirit of giving to those you love and those in need. 

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