Written by Sofia Sicignano|
*Sources include Santa Claus The History Channel
Santa, Father Christmas, Kris Kringel, Papa Noel, Jolly old Saint Nick: Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it’s hard not to have heard of Santa Claus in one form or another. This mystical being has been a symbol of the Holiday season for centuries.
The earliest tales of Santa date back to about 280 A.D. starting with Monk Saint Nicolas from the country now known as Turkey. He was a docile and generous man who used his wealth to help those who were less fortunate. The story of his generosity spread in the years after his death.
His feast day was deemed the 6th of December, the anniversary of his passing. Through the years, the day became know as a lucky day to give/receive large gifts and to come together with a significant other in matrimony.
St. Nicolas remained an infamous figure especially during the Renaissance era in Europe. He made his way across the pond in the late 18th century. As the Dutch resided prominently in the New York region, a country where St. Nick was celebrated with the utmost respect, a newspaper source decided to run a story on him consecutively from 1773-1774.
The Dutch referred to the saint as Sinter Klaas. His popularity grew in New York and spread through New England. American author, essayist, historian and diplomat Washington Irving made the tale of Sinter Klaas even more popular by self-declaring him the official saint of New York in his historically based book The History of New York.
But, Santa as you may know and love him, is a much more recent image. One of the most popular short stories in the history of the U.S. was written in 1822 by a Clement Moore. You may have heard the story A Visit From Saint Nicolas, more commonly known as The Night Before Christmas. This story is responsible for the modern depiction and demeanor of Santa Claus. Moore combined the characteristics of the religious Saint Nicolas, the Dutch legend Sinter Klaas, and the Pagan God of Yule Oden. He assimilated him to American culture by depicting him in American clothing and making him more secular, portraying him as a jovial elf.
But the other classic attributes of Santa, such as his North Pole workshop, elf workers, and “Naughty and Nice” list came from another source. Thomas Nast, a German-American cartoonist is credited with giving these traits to our American Santa.
Merry elf, round-bellied gift-giver, old myth, or religious figure. Around the world, the idea of Santa lives on in many forms. There’s our prominent Americanized Santa for sure, but there is also the angelic Kris Kringel of Germany and Switzerland. Father Christmas visits the children of the United Kingdom, while the Babushka (grandmother in Russian) handles the Russian children. La Befana of Italy is a kind-hearted and amiable witch who fills the stockings of the children while riding her broomstick down their chimney.
No matter what version of Santa you may believe in, or have the pleasure of knowing, he (or she) is not relegated to a particular group of people. The magic, joy, and light he brings to those who experience him is a feeling all those affected will hold with them for the rest of their lives. Even if believing in his figure goes against what you may believe in, let us hope to never forget the message of generosity, kindness, and friendship implied by his presence.