I must admit that as a young child, I suppose like many young children, I never really thought a whole lot about Santa Claus. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly was aware of him, and like most children I nervously awaited and anticipated his annual visits.
However, the origins of his story were far beyond the interests or attention span of an overactive youngster. That type of information was best left for the adults in my life. Something to be learned when I was much, much older, like say in my twenties!
Well, as we are all aware, time does roll by. My twenties became my thirties and then forties and then, alright, enough of this numbers thing, suffice is to say a lot of water has passed under the bridge. Anyway, I never did take the time to learn anything about the origins of Santa Claus and it’s high time to correct this injustice.
It turns out that Santa Claus is the real deal!
Well, not really Santa Claus but his progenitor St. Nicholas. You see Nicholas was a man who lived in the fourth century in a place called Myra (present day Turkey). His parents died when he was very young, leaving Nicholas a very wealthy man. Apparently, Nicholas was a kind man and was very generous with his wealth, often helping those less fortunate by anonymously leaving gifts and money. Indeed, one of the most famous stories about Nicholas may very well explain the origin of the Christmas stocking.
It seems that while helping one particularly needy family he dropped a bag of gold down their chimney, it fell into a sock left hanging by the fire to dry. When the act was repeated, the father of the house, wanting to know who this benefactor was, sat by the fire every evening until he caught Nicholas dropping in the third bag of gold. Nicholas pleaded with the man not to reveal what he was doing but the story soon got out and from that time on if someone received a secret gift, it was said to be from Nicholas.
Due to his generosity, Nicholas was made a Saint, and he is the patron of both children and sailors.
He died on the 6th of December, sometime in the mid fourth century (year uncertain), in Turkey. His remains were relocated (some say stolen) to the Italian port city of Bari in the eleventh century, and now rests in the church named after him.
So, how did St. Nicholas become Santa Claus?
In seventeenth century Europe the stories of St. Nicholas fell out of favour amid the upheavals of the Protestant reformation. Many countries of the day adopted their own benevolent figures to fulfill the task of gift giving.
In England, it was ‘Father Christmas’. In France, it was ‘Pere Noel’ who handed out the goodies.
Germany had the ‘Christ Kind’ and in early America, he was known as ‘Kris Kringle’.
It was early Dutch settlers to the U.S. that brought the stories and traditions of St. Nicholas to the new world. Somewhere along the way Kris Kringle became ‘Sinterklaas’, or as we now say, Santa Claus.
Well, the rest, as they say, is history. Santa Claus, in the modern world, has become an unstoppable marketing juggernaut associated directly or indirectly with products, books, movies and the economic well-being of many a company’s existences. Tens of billions of dollars change hands every year in his honour.
And to think, it all began a very long time ago with the kind gestures and good intentions of a simple man trying to do the right thing.
So yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus!