Santa Claus – a household name. But where did it come from? When the dreaded time comes where we have to explain to the kids that Santa is “make believe” – what do we say? Is it really made up? The answer is NO! And the history of where Santa Claus came from is actually pretty interesting.
Nikolaos of Myra (modern Turkey), better known as Saint Nicholas, was born in the fourth century, was orphaned as a teen and left quite a bit of money from his parents. He used his fortune to help others, and was especially known to be kind to children, which is why is remembered as the patron saint of children (among other titles).
He was a secret gift giver, as he had the money, but wanted to give gifts to help people, not for praise. He became a Bishop at an early age, and wore the traditional red Bishop robes. He was also very well known to remind kids to say their prayers and practice good behaviour (which is where the naughty/nice list idea comes from!)
There was one particular story that sticks out, that we still celebrate today, although most of us don’t know why! The story goes that Saint Nick knew of an elderly man with three daughters. At that time, where they lived, to get married, a bridegroom needed to be paid a dowry at the wedding. (the bride’s family needed to pay the groom a sum of money) – but this man was very poor, and was worried that if he got too old and passed away while his daughters were still single, they would become slaves. He also had a lot of pride and did not ask anyone for money. So, Saint Nick decided late one night that he would drop a sack of money down the chimney of the poor man’s home, so he would not know who gave it to him, a daughter could get married. He did this three nights in a row; one for each of the man’s daughters – one of those nights, the sack of gold coins fell into a sock (or stocking), which was hung over the fire to dry. By the time the morning came, the gold had melted into a ball at the tip of the stocking – which is why a lot of people put an orange in the bottom of Christmas stockings, to represent the ball of gold! Interesting, hey?? I always wondered why my parents/grandparents always insisted on an orange in the stocking!
Saint Nicholas died on December 6, so the tradition of remembering his kindness and selfless gift giving was originally celebrated on that day, and the eve of it was on December 5. In some European countries, they decided they wanted to focus more on Christ closer to Christmas Day, and made the tradition such that the gift giver was the “Christkind” who was supposed to symbolize the baby Jesus; and the church had decided on December 25 as Christ’s birth day, so the holiday tradition of Saint Nick was moved to December 24, and the Christkind would be celebrated that eve, and on Christmas Day. In English, this name translated to Kris Kringle. Later, Dutch sailors took the old stories about St. Nicholas back to Holland and he became “Sinterklass” – or as we now say, “Santa Claus” – and we celebrate his tradition on Christmas Eve, although in some parts of the world, they still celebrate it on December 6, the “feast day” – the day he died.
Although the image of this kind-hearted man has changed quite a bit over time from the young bishop in red robes, to the fat, jolly man with a beard and 8 reindeer (this part was made up by poets and children’s authors to make the legend fun for kids), it does still come from a very true place in history, so at least the kids will know when they are too old to believe in Santa Claus, (if there is even an age for that! We still get presents from Santa at my parents’ house and I’m in my 30’s! He is SO real!) – at least we can tell them it comes from a story about a generous soul that really did live, his traditions come from factual events, and the way he lived his life is certainly something we should remember and remind ourselves of every year.
Merry Christmas to everyone, and may Santa bring you presents (maybe even gold nuggets!), instead of coal! 😊 – Edmonton Mama
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