Christmas 2022: Why is Santa Claus known as St Nicholas?
Santa. Father Christmas. Kris Kringle. A man who goes by many names.
But the festive figure who delivers our presents on Christmas Eve actually has a far more religious origin than those jolly monikers would suggest.
Long before he became the rotund man in the red suit with the army of flying reindeer, the origin of the Santa Claus we know today can be traced back to a man named St. Nicholas.
Who is St Nicholas and what is the history of Santa Claus?
Why is Santa Claus called St Nicholas?
The origin of Santa Claus dates back to the 3rd century, when he was instead a man known as Saint Nicholas, believed to have walked the earth to become the patron saint of children.
St. Nicholas was a monk believed to have been born around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra, in what we now call Turkey.
St Nicholas’ charity and generosity was a widely shared legend.
Stories included him giving away his inherited wealth and travelling the countryside to help the poor and sick.
St. Nicholas and all his deeds became important to different cultures as a result – with Holland especially celebrating his legend on the anniversary of his death each year (December 6).
It was because of this annual celebration that Saint Nick became known to other countries, including the United States.
In the 18th Century, New York newspapers shared the story of Dutch families celebrating with gift giving and other traditions to celebrate St Nicholas.
When did St Nicholas become Santa Claus?
The name Santa Claus evolved from the Dutch nickname for St. Nicholas, Sinter Klaas – a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas).
In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society’s annual meeting.
The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace.
The image of St Nick started to evolve over time, and it was the poem of one minister who helped solidify the modern idea of Santa.
In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a Christmas poem for his three daughters.
In this poem – An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas – imagery consisted of popular tropes like a portly, jolly man who can travel down chimneys to give presents, and the ability to fly around on a sleigh led by reindeer.
This poem was to become popular outside of Clarke Moore’s household, as his poem is better known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
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