Santa History: How Saint Nicholas Became Santa Claus
Civil War Santa (1863)
Saint Nicholas, Sinter Klaas and Santa Claus
The Historical Saint Nicholas
The history of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a fourth century Christian bishop known for his generosity. Saint Nicholas was born around 270 or 280 AD in what is now modern-day Turkey. His parents died when he was young, and legend says that he gave away all his inherited wealth and went around helping the needy.
In one of the most well-known legends, Saint Nicholas is said to have thrown three bags of gold coins down the chimney of a poor man who couldn't afford the dowry for his three daughters. Without the dowry, they would remain unmarried and unemployed, and would probably be forced into a life of prostitution.
In another version of the story, the bags of coins fell into stockings the girls had placed by the fire to dry. This is the basis for the modern tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace, and also the tradition of leaving oranges in the toe of Christmas stockings. (The oranges represent the bags of gold.)
Image from "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" (1862)
Thomas Nast's Santa Claus (1881)
Saint Nicholas Comes to America
The legend of Saint Nicholas was brought to America by Dutch settlers, who can also claim credit for later use of the name Santa Claus, which evolved from Sinter Klaas, a Dutch nickname for Sint Nikolaas.
Saint Nicholas's legend continued to spread when he was chosen as the patron saint of the New York Historical Society and New York City in 1804. A few years later, Irving Washington published a history of New York that also included many references to a jolly Saint Nicholas.
'Twas the Night Before Christmas
It was Clement C. Moore, however, who really popularized the legend of the saint and many of the traits we now associate with Santa Claus, including his appearance, his method of transportation and the names of his reindeer.
He originally wrote the poem, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," (now more commonly known as "The Night Before Christmas") for his family, but it became quite popular after it was published anonymously in 1823.
Thomas Nast's Santa
Political cartoonist Thomas Nast helped ingrain Moore's vision of Santa into the public mind. In 1863, he began drawing a series of annual cartoons for "Harper's Weekly" that depicted Santa as bearded and fat, as Moore had described. Previous images of Santa had always shown tall, thin men. Nast's first cartoon was published on the cover of the magazine in 1863 and showed Santa handing out gifts to Civil War soldiers. In the picture, he is sitting on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. Later, Nash would also invent Mrs. Claus, the North Pole and elves.
After that, images of Santa continued to show him as a jolly, rotund fellow, and he became more popular than ever. Today images of Santa can be found on everything from Christmas cards to toys and gifts.
Lill's Travels in Santa Claus Land (1878)
Are You a Believer?
Do You Believe in Santa Claus?See results without voting
Personalized Nice List Ornament
More Christmas Hubs by lisa42
- 5 Fun Free Santa Printables
The web is a big place, and there are plenty of sites out there offering free things during the holidays. You can get free Christmas wallpaper, free holiday music, free patterns for Christmas crafts, and many,...
- Santa Message Video is Fun for Kids
If you're thinking of sending your child a letter from Santa Claus this year, you may also want to consider a personalized Santa message video from Portable North Pole. This site allows you to create a...
- The Charlie Brown Christmas Song: Christmas Time is Here
"A Charlie Brown Christmas" is one of the most popular animated Christmas specials ever made. It won an Emmy and a Peabody Award, was aired annually on CBS more times than even MGM's classic "Wizard of Oz,"...
- Christmas Letters from Santa: Full-Serve or Print Your Own?
Today you have the choice of using a full-service business to send a Santa letter to your child or to create one with help of sites that make it easy to customize and print Christmas letters from Santa at...
- Ideas for Creative Christmas Letters
Stumped about what to put in your annual Christmas letter? Then think outside the box. Maybe it's time for an extreme makeover.
- Easy Reindeer Crafts for Kids
Looking for an easy Christmas craft project for kids? These simple reindeer crafts are quick, easy and inexpensive to make. But kids love 'em! Just follow the simple directions below and you'll soon have your...
Please Leave Some Feedback! 1 comment
- Free Printable Santa Letters at Christmas Letter Tips.com | Christmas Letter Tips.com
Get free printable Santa letters at Christmas Letter Tips.com, read articles about the holidays, or download Christmas letter templates.
- Printable Santa Letters.com - Create personalized Santa letters at home in minutes
Create personalized letters from Santa Claus in minutes at Printable Santa Letters.com.
More by this Author
This list of 5 free Santa printables includes free letters from Santa Claus, postcards, a Nice List behavior guide, a wish list template and a printable Christmas card.
Have you ever wondered how Santa Claus gets into houses without a chimney? He does it like the rest of us - he uses the front door. But he needs a magic Santa Claus key to do it.
If you love Elf Yourself, you'll love these sites that let you Santa yourself. You can become Santa Claus and send free ecards to your friends. But be careful - you may find it addicting.