History of Santa Claus

History of Santa ClausIf you are looking for the history of Santa Claus, it is interesting to note that the story of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years ago. Many people believe that the legend of Santa Claus began with a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that St. Nicholas was born around 280 A.D. in Patara, which is now modern-day Turkey. Regardless of where he was born, the legend of Santa Claus began with him.

The legend of Santa Claus begins with St. Nicolas because of his piety and kindness, which he was greatly admired for. It is believed that St. Nicholas gave away all of his inherited wealth so that he could roam the countryside to help the sick and poor. The best-known story about St. Nicholas is that he saved three sisters from being sold into prostitution by their father by providing a dowry for each of the sisters so that they could be married.

The legend of Santa Claus continues with St. Nicholas’s Dutch name Sinter Klaas, in New York in December of 1773, when Dutch families gathered to honor the anniversary of St. Nicholas’s death. St. Nicholas continued to gain popularity in America in 1804, when John Pintard gave out woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the New York Historical Society’s annual meeting. The legend continued to grow with the help of Washington Irving in 1804, when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York.

During this time, people described Santa Claus in a variety of ways. Some people said he was a rascal that wore a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings. Other described him as a man who wore a broad-brimmed hat with a pair of Flemish trunk hose, which were considered to be huge. The name Santa Claus comes from St. Nicholas’s Dutch name Sinter Klaas and it is from here that Santa Claus evolved into the mall style Santa that we know and love today.

During the 19th century Christmas as a gift, giving holiday was rejuvenated. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in the 1820s, and in the 1840s, newspapers began creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which often featured images of Santa Claus. In a Philadelphia shop in 1841, thousands of children came to see a model of Santa Claus, which quickly lead to stores using a “live” Santa Claus. Using a live Santa Claus was a great way for any store to attract more customers because children and parents alike would come from miles around just to get a glimpse of him.

In keeping with the spirit of St. Nicholas one year the Salvation Army needed to raise more money to help feed Christmas dinner to needy families. To help raise the money the Salvation Army began dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits. The men went into the streets of New York the first year to raise money. Now we see them in front of stores and on street corners all over America, where they ring bells to help raise money for those in need.

For more info on the life & history of Santa Claus, check out Santa Claus Around the World

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Photo Credit: Matti Mattila

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