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Origins of Santa Claus: Who Was Saint Nicholas?

Updated on March 24, 2018
angela_michelle profile image

Angela has been a foster parent for eight years and adopted one of her own. She has taken many courses to help her better understand kids.


Is There a Santa Claus?

"Is there a Santa Claus?" is one of the most common and dreaded questions a child will ask. There are three ways to answer this:

  • Lie
  • Be evasive
  • Tell the truth

I never recommend lying. You want your children to know you will always answer questions truthfully. Pretending is one thing, lying breaks trust. At a very young age, it's okay to be evasive, change the subject, ask them "what do you think?" Once they begin questioning his existence day in and day out, it's time they know the truth.

Although, what exactly is the truth? Do you give a one word answer?

I personally believe, the spirit of Christmas deserves more than that.

We see him at every department store during the holiday, but have you noticed, his eyes are never quite the same color, his beard is never quite the same legnth, and he gains and loses weight dependent on what store you happen to go?
We see him at every department store during the holiday, but have you noticed, his eyes are never quite the same color, his beard is never quite the same legnth, and he gains and loses weight dependent on what store you happen to go? | Source

Spirit of Christmas

Santa Claus is not just a fat, jolly old man who wears a red coat, has a rotund figure, and a long white beard. He is also the first example of the Christmas spirit we learn. As exciting as the birth of Christ is, the true meaning of Christmas often gets lost in the hype of present-giving, the hustle and bustle of gatherings, and the financial strain on our checkbook. We often lose sight of what Christmas is really about.

It's about family, love, and the ultimate gift God gave us - not in that order. We need to remind our children about the gift God gave us: his son, forgiveness of sins, eternal life.

Although a two-year-old will not get excited when you say, "You can be forgiven for your sins, because Jesus was born on this day, and you can live eternally in Heaven," however they will get excited when they learn that once a year, under the Christmas tree they will be given material gifts. It is then that you can first explain, Santa gives us presents, because God once gave us an even better gift.

As they get older, you can go into more depth about gift giving as a symbol of God's great gift that he gave us on that first Christmas Day. Because of that great gift, we give to one another to symbolize His great love. We may not be able to give eternal life, but we can give from our hearts. When we do that, we are showing God's love, by being our own little secret Santa.

This explanation will suffice for a long-time. Sooner or later, they will want to know if he is real. The answer is plain and simple - yes. Although we don't know if he was fat, had a white beard, or anything about his appearance. We do know, he lived and died.

He's nice, he's charming, is he real?
He's nice, he's charming, is he real? | Source

The Story of St Nicholas

Yes, that is right. Santa Claus truly existed three hundred years after Jesus Christ was born. Gift-giving was not an instant symbol of God's gift to us. It began through one man who was eventually declared a saint - Saint Nicholas.

He was born during the third century in Patara, a small village on the coast of Turkey. He was born to wealthy parents who were strong followers of Jesus Christ, who died while he was still young. They taught Nicholas the Word from a very young age, especially one particular verse that taught people to give to the poor. It was due to this that he used his inheritance to assist the needy, sick, and suffering. He dedicated his life to serve God and as a result, he became well-known for his generosity, especially towards children, which he had a soft spot for.

Although there are many legends about this strong Christian leader, it is uncertain what has been embellished and what is truth.

One of the most famous legends tells about a man Nicholas encountered who had three young daughters. The man was unable to feed his daughters and feared he would have to send them away so they could be cared for. One night, Nicholas decided to sneak on the man's roof and dropped three bags of gold, one-by-one down the chimney.

As many families did back then, the girls left their washed stockings to dry by the fireplace. Supposedly, each bag of gold fell into the stockings below. The family believed it to be a miracle.

This was his most famous gift, but not his first nor his last. He often snuck around to people's houses, leaving presents that would bring joy and happiness to the receiver. Sometimes it was money that they needed, maybe even a toy or food. He gave to them, what he felt they needed most. He soon became recognized as the great man he was, and after his death, he was declared a Saint.

Santa can be anyone, even you!
Santa can be anyone, even you! | Source

When Is Saint Nick's Day?

After he became a saint, many began celebrating his great deeds. The celebration was not initially on Christmas Day, but rather what we now know as Saint Nicholas's Day, which is the anniversary of his death. The first celebration of Saint Nick's Day began with people hanging stockings by the fire on December 5th. When they awoke on December 6th, they would be filled with candy, fruit, nuts, or toys. It was a parents’ way of showing children the love Nicholas showed to others. Many years later, Christmas and Saint Nick's Day celebrations united.

So when is Saint Nicholas's Day? December 6, which marks the day in 343 AD when Nicholas died. He did not always live such a cheerful life, despite the cheer and joy he brought to others. He often suffered for his faith and even became imprisoned and was exiled due to his strong faith in God.

So the short answer you can give your children, "Is Santa real?“ Yes, very much so. Is Santa really giving you those presents Christmas morning? Kind of - the spirit he left behind is. Did your mom or dad do the buying, building, and wrapping? Well, yes, but that doesn't make Santa Claus any less real in our hearts. Soon, you too, will get to be Santa, even now if you like. Give a gift, "from Santa." Let your little sisters, brothers, friends, believe in his magic for as long as they can. Let yourself pretend for as long as you want, but remember Santa Claus is and was always real, just as those you loved who may have passed away are still and always will be real. We remember St Nick in this way, as we would remember a loved one."


Dear Editor, Virginia

The original letter that inspired the famous letter, "Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus."
The original letter that inspired the famous letter, "Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus." | Source

Christmas: Santa Claus History (Random Facts)

  • Dutch settlers in New York brought the Santa Claus tradition to America.
  • His story spread across the world during the Middle Ages (500-1400 AD).
  • In 1836, Alabama was the first state to make Christmas a national holiday; Oklahoma was the last in 1907.
  • Saint Nicholas has only been Santa Claus for 200 years. Before that, people celebrated the Saint, not the legend of Saint Nicholas, which delivers presents on Christmas Day.
  • In some countries, people leave out shoes not stockings for presents.
  • Santa did not have reindeer until December 23, 1823 when Clement Moore published his poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas." This was the first mention of how Santa Claus flew through the night. Rudolph joined in 1939.
  • Donner's real name is Donder, not Donner. It means thunder. Donder is paired with Blitzen, which means lightening.
  • Male reindeer shed their antlers right before Christmas, so the reindeer pulling Santa's sleigh are most likely female, unlike their male sounding names.
  • Haddon Sundbloom was the first illustrator to draw Santa as the plump, jolly red-suited man we see today, which he drew for a Coca-Cola ad.
  • How does Santa know where you live? No matter whose house he goes to, he is always going south, since he lives at the north pole.
  • Today, if he were to deliver presents to all the world on Christmas Eve, he would have to stop at 822 houses a second. That is assuming he uses all 31 hours he is given to deliver presents; 31 hours accounts for the different time zones. This throws out the theory that he only delivers in the dark.
  • Children in Britian burn their letters to Santa, believing it will be magically transported to Santa at the North Pole.
  • There is no time zone in North Pole, which is believed to be part of the reason Santa does not have to abide by the rules of time and space as us common folk do.
  • The Santa in Finland received the most letters, although you can send him a letter to his addresses in New York, Canada, and Finland, listed below:

Santa Claus,
North Pole,
Hoh oho,

Santa Claus address in New York
Operation Santa Claus,
Manhattan General Post Office,
New York, N.Y., 10199-9641

Santa Claus,
Santa Claus Village,
Arctic Circle, Finland.

Names of Santa Claus around the World

(click column header to sort results)
Name of Santa  
Babbo Natale
Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost)
Father Christmas
United Kingdom
Hawaii, USA
Jultomten (Christmas Brownie)
Old Man Christmas
Chile (Viejo Pascuero) and China (Dun Che Lao Ren)
Papai Noel
Pere Noel
Belgium and France
Saint Nicholas
Hungary (Swiety Mikolaj) and Poland (Mikulas)
Santa Claus
United States
Weihnachsmann (Christmas Man)



© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz


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    • kasiaeliza profile image

      Katarzyna Aleksandrzak 16 months ago from Lodz, Poland

      In Poland, we have "Święty Mikołaj".

    • Learning in Life profile image

      Megan Sisko 5 years ago from SW Florida

      Very interesting. I actually believed in Santa until I was 12.