How did Santa Claus Become Part of Christmas?

By Ashley Chapmen

In History
Nov 26th, 2015

As children our family and friends talk about Santa Claus as if he is a myth, something only as a child you believe in. As we grow up our belief changes and it becomes harder to believe in Santa Claus, but couldn’t it be Santa Claus is real? After all there has to be some history of Santa Claus to have started the story passed on by generations yet to come. The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back as far as the 3rd century to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime in or around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. The legend of St. Nicolas kindness stems from Nicholas being admired for his piety and kindness. It was said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth traveling the countryside to help the poor and sick. One of the most widely known stories of St. Nicholas was how he saved three sisters from being sold by their father into slavery or prostitution providing them with a dowry and giving them the option to marry. As the years passed, Nicholas’s popularity spread throughout as he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day was celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6th. Traditionally, the day was considered a lucky day to become married or make large purchases. According to the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was one of the most popular saints in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, where the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas held a positive reputation, especially in Holland. St. Nicholas made his first appearance into American popular culture towards the end of the 18th century. In December 1773, and again in 1774, a newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families were honoring the anniversary of St. Nicholas’s death.

How Did St. Nicholas Gain the name Santa Claus

Santa Claus, the name, evolved from Nicholas’s Dutch nickname known as Sinter Klass, a shorter form of Sint Nikolass which is Dutch for Saint Nicholas.John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, in 1804 distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at an annual meeting. The background on the engraving contains what is now a familiar image of Santa with the stockings filled with toys and fruit hanging over the fireplace. Washington Irving, in 1809 further made popular the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron Saint of New York during a reference in the book “The History of New York”. As Sinter Klaas popularity grew people would describe him as everything from a rascal with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a huge pair of Flemish trunk hose.
The start of Shopping Mall Santas

Since the early 19th century gift giving centering around children has been a major part of the Christmas celebration. Stores began to advertise the holiday and Christmas shopping back in 1820, by the 1840s newspapers were writing separate sections on holiday advertisements often featuring images of the most popular Santa Claus. A Philadelphia shop in 1841 had a life-size Santa Claus model which lead to thousands of children visiting the store. It was not long after that stores began to attract children and their parents with the sneak peek at a live Santa Claus. In the early 1890s, the Salvation Army was running low on funds to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families in their area. They began to dress up unemployed men into Santa Claus suits sending them out into the street of New York to solicit donations from anyone who would give them money. Thus formed the familiar Salvation Army Santas ringing their bells on street corners and in front of American stores around the United States.

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