By: Addison Doub
What is the history behind the famous Santa Claus? We all know the chubby old man with the long beard and red suit who brings you gifts and indulges in the milk and cookies laid out for him, but how did he become the image of Christmas itself?
Well, Santa, otherwise known as Saint Nicholas, was the patron saint of children in the 3rd Century. Hundreds of years ago is when the legend of Santa Claus began, around 280 A.D. The legend started in Patara which is modern-day Turkey. St. Nicholas gave away all his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside to help the less fortunate. He became known as the protector of children and sailors after his popularity spread over many years. The anniversary of his death, on December 6, was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or get married. By the time of the renaissance, St, Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even with the downfall of popularity in saints, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation.
St. Nicholas made his entrance into popular American culture towards the end of the 18th century. The name Santa Claus evolved from St. Nick’s dutch nickname “Sinter Klaas, which is the shortened form of Sint Nikolaas. 1804 is when the popular stereotypes of Santa Claus began; John Pintard was a member of the New-York Historical Society. He distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at an annual meeting that the Society held. The engraving pictures familiar Santa images that are popular today. Different variations of Sinter Klaas were thrown around after the subject grew to become popular. All around the world different versions of St. Nicholas inspired gifters were constructed. Similar figures and traditions for Christmas time are common internationally.
The traditions that are typical in the United States are stockings filled with small toys and treats, presents under the tree, and milk and cookies for Santa as an act of gratitude. These traditions emerged along with the creation of Santa Claus, for he is the one who distributes the toys and joy to children around Christmas time. Many other typical stories or legends were created off of the Christmas holiday, like Rudolph, the North Pole, Mrs. Claus, elves, and the naughty and nice list.
I interviewed my papa about his experiences regarding Santa Claus and his Christmas experiences when he was a child. He stated, “We used to go see Santa Claus at the department stores, that’s what they called them back then. They didn’t have a mall when we were young. We sat on his lap and told him what we wanted, I don’t recall any picture taking, we didn’t have a camera. They used to also tell us about being good or bad, so you’d try to be good before Christmas. They used to tell us that they would give us a lump of coal. My grandad had a shop that he heated with coal and he also sold coal for a living, so I knew what coal was and I didn’t want it. I really believed I’d probably get some.”
But, with all the wonderful Christmas legends and traditions, the iconic Santa Claus is the one who started it all and he will always hold his place as the figure of Christmas.