Contrary to popular belief, Santa Claus was not created by the beverage behemoth, Coca-Cola. The story of Santa Claus dates back to sometime around 280 A.D in a location that is now known as the country of Turkey. Here lived a monk that went by the name of St. Nicholas, who was admired by the locals for his generosity and kindness.
St. Nicholas was somewhat of a mysterious man, travelling around the countryside helping those less fortunate than himself. Legends indicate that he became a very rich man after his wealthy parents passed away and left him a small fortune. He used this fortune for good deeds, one particular deed drawing more attention than the rest. Apparently, there were three girls that were to be sold as slaves as their father was not wealthy enough to offer up dowries for eligible suitors. One night, St. Nicholas delivered a small sack of gold to the father of these poor daughters, dropping it down his chimney as they slept below. By chance, the gold fell into a stocking that was hung by the fire to dry, creating our modern day tradition of stockings!
St. Nicholas quickly became known as the protector of children and oddly enough, sailors, as he apparently appeared out of thin air on occasion to calm enraged seas when he was prayed for. St. Nich was by far the most popular saint during the Renaissance period, and his name continued to carry power even after he died on December 6th, especially in Holland.
Reports of Santa in North America first spring up around 1773, when a New York newspaper printed a story about a group of Dutch families that had gathered together to celebrate the death of St.Nicholas in December. We actually have these Dutch families to thank for the name “Santa Claus” as it evolved from their nickname of “Sinter Klaas”, a short form of the Dutch translation of Saint Nicholas (Sint Nikolaas).
As the meetings grew in popularity, images were distributed that depicted a familiar man standing near a chimney with various toys and fruit filling the background. Later in 1809, Washington Irving published a book called “The History of New York” which mentioned St. Nicholas as the Patron Saint of New York. Sinter Klaas evolved into a loveable, rascal-like figure that usually sported bright coloured clothing.
Due to the fact that St. Nicholas or Sinter Klaas was associated with gift giving and children, various stores soon began to use him in their in-store advertising. Christmas shopping became popular around 1830, and by the 1840’s, there were full-page Christmas advertisements in newspapers across North America.
In 1841, an in-store model of Santa Claus in Philadelphia was visited by thousands of children. This is when stores realized that they could bring shoppers into their store with the lure of a “live” Santa Claus. In the late 1800’s the Salvation Army also realized the power of this new image of Santa Claus and dressed men by the thousands, putting a real live Santa on street corners all over Canada and the U.S.
Meanwhile, a minister was busy creating a poem in 1822 for his daughters which detailed a visit from St.Nicholas. He used words such as “jolly” and “portly” to describe the Saint and told his readers of how St. Nicholas could fly up a chimney with a simple nod of his head! A political cartoonist, Thomas Nast, created an image of Santa Claus from this poem which was then published in Harper’s Weekly, giving the world the image of the cheerful old man with a full white beard that we have come to know and love today!
Knowing some of the background details of Santa Claus and St.Nich can make for great stories come Christmas time. Children often become curious of Santa’s origins, so hopefully the old tales of St. Nicholas can be used as your inspiration!
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