Santa Claus has been around for years, but where did he come from? The history of Santa Claus is debated, and changes from country to country, however, most historians agree that the mythical figure of Santa Claus actually began life as a real person.
This real person was a Christian monk living in Turkey. This monk is named Nicholas, which later became St. Nicholas.
This Turkish monk was born in about 280 AD, and by the end of his life St. Nicholas was known throughout the area for his kindness to children, protection of sailors, and generosity. It is said that he used a large inheritance to help others keeping none for himself. There are many stories about his generosity, and these are the stories that helped to give rise to the legend of Santa Claus.
However, the debate comes in many of the traditions that we observe during the Christmas holiday. Some think they come as a result of St. Nicholas and his actions, but most would agree that many of these traditions were the Christian replacement of old pagan holidays and festivities.
Today it is said that Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s birth, however, Christ was born in the spring time. The winter festival of pagan times was called Saturnalia. It is from Saturnalia where we get the tradition of giving gifts.
So, how did St. Nicholas and Saturnalia get connected? Well, after Nicholas was made a saint, a day of celebration was made to feast and celebrate his life. That day was December 6th. And since Saturnalia is about giving gifts, and St. Nicholas is famous for his generosity, and his day of feasting is so close to Christmas time (December 6) it is hardly a wonder that the two days became intertwined over the years.
So the real debate over Santa Claus is whether he came from the Christian Monk, or the Pagan celebrations.
However, we can see by his name, and the name by which he is known throughout the world, that it is most likely that Santa Claus came as a direct result of St. Nicholas’s actions, and the date of celebration was convenient.
Let’s look at how Santa came about throughout the world:
Germany: There were many Protestant areas of central and northern Germany, and these areas celebrated St. Nicholas, who later became known as der Weinachtsmann.
England: In England he came to be called Father Christmas.
US: St. Nicholas made his way to the United States with Dutch immigrants, who called him Sinter Klaas, the Dutch translation of St. Nicholas, and it is the US version of Sinter Klaas that started the reference of him as Santa Claus.
He is known by many names throughout the world, and there are many customs and traditions that come with him. For example, the Sinter Klaas of the Dutch fills shoes, whereas the Santa Claus of America fills stockings.
It is poetry and illustrations, that gave Santa Claus, his white beard, red jacket and red cap, as well as the idea that he would go out on the night before Christmas in his sleigh, pulled by eight reindeer, and climb down chimneys to leave his gifts in stockings children set out on the fireplace’s mantelpiece.
Once the ideas of Santa were in motion, there was no stopping them, as children are very curious, naturally they wanted to know where he lived all year, how he got the presents, and more. And so the North Pole came into being, as well as a work shop and elves, although elves had long been apart of Scandinavian custom. However, some felt Santa lived in Finland, as reindeer would not be able to eat at the North Pole. Thus different legends and ideas are perpetuated, but the man of generosity and love for good little children remains.