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The Real Story Behind SANTA CLAUS

Updated on September 28, 2010

Ho ho ho...Here Comes Santa Claus

The Real History of Santa Claus

Where did the legend of Santa Claus come from? How did it start? Lets look at the real story behind the myth, beginning with a very real man named Nicholas.

The legend began in fourth century Myra in Asia Minor, which today is known as Turkey. Nicholas was a Bishop who was known for his generosity and kindness to children. At least one miracle was attributed to him by the Catholic Church. The most famous story about him is the following...

A father had three daughters. They were so poor, they were likely to lose their home. The three young daughters had decided to turn to prostitution to save their father from financial ruin and retain their home. When Bishop Nicholas found out, he visited their house and left three stocking, each with a piece of gold within. The three gold pieces saved the family from ruin (And also started the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings and putting gifts in them.)

Later, Bishop Nicholas got into trouble with Emperor Diocletian for saying things which the Emperor preferred were not said. Nicholas didn't approve of many thing which occurred under the Emperor and said so. He was exiled from Myra. Nicholas wandered Europe for a time and his reputation had proceeded him. He was well received everywhere as a man of integrity and courage. The Pope himself praised Nicholas.

Eventually Bishop Nicholas returned to Myra and was quickly arrested. He ultimately died in prison on Dec. 6, 350 AD. Many mourned his death and so decided to honor his life annually. Sailors, migrants and various travellers carried the tale of Bishop Nicholas throughout Europe. His deeds were honored every Dec. 6th in many countries. The Church eventually made him St. Nicholas.

In 1686, Josiah King wrote "The Examination and Trial of Father Christmas" to celebrate Christmas being reinstated as an official holiday. Father Christmas embodied the spirit of good will and joy that Christmas is supposed to represent. Father Christmas was depicted as an old man with a white beard. This could be because he typified the antiquity of the Christian tradition. Another theory is that he was based on Woton (Or Odin) the All-Father of Scandinavian/Dutch/Germanic mythology. Father Christmas did not bring gifts to children, at this point. He was implicitly immortal, as eternal as Christmas itself.

Father Christmas became a symbol of Christmas over the next 100 years. And since the life of St. Nicholas was also celebrated every December, the two legends somehow began to merge. People began to think of them as one character and so St. Nicholas became Father Christmas.

In the 1700, many Dutch speaking people began to settle in America. They brought with them the legends of St. Nicholas/Father Christmas. They called him Sint Nikolaas, but the name got shortened and altered by American writer Washington Irving who wrote the first popular stories about the Sint Nikolass, who Irving renamed "Sinterklaus". Americans, hearing this legend for the first time, adopted the story into American culture but they had trouble pronouncing Sinterklaus and so they changed the name to make it easier to say. Saint Nicholas/Father Christmas became Santa Claus in America. Although the name Father Christmas would eventually fade from popular use in America, Santa Claus would not.

In Austria, he became known as 'Christkind', the spirit of Christ's generosity. He had other names around the world but few of them are used any longer. When Austrians brought Christkind to America, the name was secularized and became Kris Kringle.

Different aspects of the combined legend were represented in Santa Claus. Santa brought toys to kids and was an immortal being who symbolized Christmas. His appearance was rather vague at this point and different groups pictured him different ways. But the one definite, consistent element was the white beard.

Santa/Kris Kringle was sometimes described as a jolly elf, because the Santa legend got mixed with another myth which talks of a magic Elf who comes to your home to deliver gifts. The elfin image that was popularized by Clement Clark Moore's classic 1823 poem, "A Visit From St. Nick". (Moore also invented the idea of the flying Reindeer.) This elfin image was the prevailing view of Santa for a long time.

In 1881, Harper's Weekly cartoonist Thomas Nast made some famous illustrations of Santa which depicted the jolly fellow as a chubby fellow. He was drawn with a big belly. The text that accompanied the Nast cartoons suggested that Santa and his magic Reindeer lived in the North Pole. Nast also designed his trademark red suit. Up until this point, Santa Claus had usually been drawn as wearing Bishop Robes.

But the definitive, iconic image of Santa Claus as we know him today was created by Coca-Cola. In 1931, Coke began a massive publicity campaign using Santa Claus as their gimmick. The ads showed a smiling Santa holding a Coca Cola in his hand. This interpretation of Santa was a rather large man, tall and tubby, with a bushy white beard. He had a bright red outfit lined with white fur.

Many Santa actors were hired by Coke for personal appearances. Department store Santas started to appear at this time and they adopted the tall, plus-sized version of St Nick. Taller Santas were easier to find than little people. However, they did cast dwarfs and midgets as Santa's Elf helpers. (Beginning the legend that Elves made Santa toys.)

This over-sized rendition of Santa was adopted by Macy's who used the large Santa as the anchor of their annual parade. The 1947 film "A Miracle on 34th Street" finally cemented this image.

The name Father Christmas never really caught on in America but the names Santa Claus/Kris Kringle/St. Nicholas are all still well known and used today. The figure of Santa Claus has appeared in every possible medium of entertainment and literature. He is forevermore established as a large, portly, ageless man in a red costume who lives in the North Pole and brings toys (built by Elves) to children on his flying reindeer and sleigh.

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    • profile image

      Lubna 

      2 years ago

      I thank you today i got an assingment to complete the story of santa clause and i have done it thanks a lot for ur help

    • profile image

      shiv 

      4 years ago

      I love that story................

    • profile image

      Lola 

      4 years ago

      Santa is stoped .

    • profile image

      Jumana 

      4 years ago

      I think this is the best story ever!!!!!!

    • profile image

      celina 

      5 years ago

      robwrite i am a child and what do you want for christmas

    • profile image

      christable 

      5 years ago

      i taught santa but it turn out not right ,but i have ho ho hofor u

    • profile image

      Sal 

      5 years ago

      Thanks Santa clause!!!!

    • profile image

      tyler 

      5 years ago

      I never really knew if santa was real or not till today and santa is really nice and it is really amazing

    • profile image

      mike honcho 

      5 years ago

      yes that is what i new

    • profile image

      -Cub-bear- 

      5 years ago

      I found this info Good but not right for me...I'm trying to, look doesn't matter!! Ugh O.O

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      5 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      In a way, he was. Ho, ho, ho.

      R.

    • profile image

      nhi nguyen 

      5 years ago

      I think santa is real!!!!!!!!

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      5 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Thanks for reading.

      R.

    • profile image

      Malik N .K 

      5 years ago

      There are diff. storys every one is fine .Is it possible to know the real one

    • profile image

      chris tu'uta 

      5 years ago

      yeah

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      You're welcome, Ndaa.

    • profile image

      Ndaa 

      6 years ago

      Thank's fr your story :) :D

    • profile image

      Ttim mills 

      6 years ago

      santa coke

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hello Jeramiah; I didn't know that but it doesn't surprise me.

      Thanks for contributing,

      Rob

    • profile image

      Jeremiah 

      6 years ago

      All christian holidays stem from the pagan religion sacked by the church and renamed into something both could relate to.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Flora; I hadn't heard about that one. It may have contributed partly to the Santa Claus legend.

      And parenthetically, you are the 5,225th person to view this hub. Thanks for adding to my total views.

      Good to hear from you,

      Rob

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 

      6 years ago

      There was a rich man named Nicholas (I think he is the basis for Saint Nicholas) who lost his family in a natural tragedy and would afterward leave gifts anonymously on people's doorsteps throughout the year - not just on Christmas- like a Robin Hood only he already had the money so there was no stealing, just giving.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      I think so, too. Thanks.

    • profile image

      cool 

      6 years ago

      cool

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Did he? Bad behavior for a saint.

    • profile image

      mjaau 

      6 years ago

      Santa Clause started 2nd world war ! Lovely text

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Hi Nandini; Sorry if its confusing. There's a lot of history there.

      Thanks for reading,

      Rob

    • profile image

      nandini 

      6 years ago

      its awesome! i had never thought there would be such a long stoey behind santa. but the information mention is rather confusing.despite i liked the information.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      6 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Well Nick, many of these stories are just stories and the point of this hub is to follow the evolution of the Santa Claus legend, using both fiction (Father Christmas, a Visit from St. Nick, Miracle on 34 st., etc) and reality, because that's what the legend is made of...both.

      As for the red suit, as I pointed out in the hub, it was thought up in the 1800s by Thomas Nast. I never said Coke invented it. They just made it popular.

      Rob

    • profile image

      Nick 

      6 years ago

      Just want to add there are a few versons of your story going around you have added more to the story. It seems as time goes on the story grows bigger .

      Like the 3 girls you talk about who you added in as saying they had to sell them self for money. yet there is no mention of this in other

      you say the father was going to loss his home yet in another story i girl needed a dowry and the biship threw this in the window at night while family was sleeping. anther is the 3 girls while sleepiing the biship st nick climp the roof and throw 3 bags of gold down and when the girls woke they found the gold in stokings

      Can I also add that at no time did Coca Cola. In 1931 never came up designed a red suite. They may of used the idea in there adverts But the red robe was used in the 4th cen and in king henry thr 8th time before they split from the church St nick was the Bishop in turkey his robe and his hat was red. the white fur was added later on but it is intresting to read the tales that go around about santa

      came from the dutch They may have used this but they never Designed the red suite as most people believe. The red sute was used in early 1900 way befor Coca cola was around.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Glad you liked it, ruffridyer.

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 

      7 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      Some good information.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      There's no denying the commercialism of Christmas,Kris. I hope there are people who still get more out of it than that. Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      Kris 

      7 years ago

      Im happy to hear the true story and apreciate your time for it but in my eyes now that you cleared it up Christmas seems to be more of a gimmick for retailers to sale their product, seems as if it started off as a good thing but now it just seems that its more about money then Jesus Christ like people think, kinda changes my prospective about celebrating Christmas or the way I celebrate Christmas, anyway thanks a lot for the story

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      You're welcome, Lele. Glad I could entertain and educate the kids.

    • profile image

      LELE 

      7 years ago

      THANK YOU THIS WAS GREAT FOR THE KIDS?

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      7 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Great to hear from you, pinkchic. Glad I could entertain and enlighten you.

    • Pinkchic18 profile image

      Sarah Carlsley 

      7 years ago from Minnesota

      Excellent history. I haven't heard this story, it's certainly interesting!

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      8 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Your welcome, drbj. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      8 years ago from south Florida

      Fascinating history of Santa Claus. Thank you.

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      8 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      You're welcome, Habee.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for the info - I'm DEF a fan of Santa!

    • Robwrite profile imageAUTHOR

      Rob 

      8 years ago from Oviedo, FL

      Glad you enjoyed it. Happy holidays.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for a really lovely hub.

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