Who Is Santa Claus?:
The jolly elf most Christian teens know as Santa Claus goes by many other names around the world. Like many Christmas symbols and traditions he has evolved from old stories and practices. In some cases his stories are based on actions by real people that have acted to add some joy into others' lives. Still, he is a quintessential symbol of Christmas
as we know it.
Once there was a monk known as St. Nicholas. He was born in Patara (near what we now know as Turkey) in 280 AD. He was known to be very kind, and that reputation led to many legends and stories. One story involved him giving away his inherited wealth while he helped those who were sick and poor around the country. Another story is that he saved three sisters from being sold into slavery. Eventually he became known as the protector of children and sailors. He died on December 6th, and so there is now a celebration of his life on that day.
The Dutch maintained the celebration of St. Nicholas far more than other cultures, and brought that celebration to America. The Dutch gave St. Nicholas the nickname, "Sinter Klass", and by 1804 woodcuts of Sinter Klass came to define modern day images of Santa. Washington Irving popularized Sinter Klass in The History of New York by defining him as the patron saint of the city.
Christkind, which is German for "Christ Child," was considered something like an angel that went along with St.Nicholas on his missions. He would bring presents to good children in Switzerland and Germany. He is sprite-like, often drawn with blond hair and angel wings.
There are two theories on the origin of Kris Kringle. One is that the name is simply a mispronunciation and misunderstanding of the Christkind tradition. The other is that Kris Kringle began as Belsnickle among the Pennsylvania Dutch in the 1820s. He would ring his bell and give out cakes and nuts to small children, but if they misbehaved they would receive a spanking with his rod.
In England, Father Christmas comes down the chimney and visits homes on Christmas Eve. He leaves treats in children's stockings. He would traditionally leave small toys and presents. Children would leave out mince pies and milk or brandy for him.
Pere Noel puts treats in the shoes of well-behaved French children. He is joined in his travels by Pere Fouettard. Pere Fouettard is the one who provides the spankings to bad children. While wooden shoes were used historically, today chocolate wooden shoes are filled with candies to commemorate the holiday. Northern France celebrates St. Nicholas Eve on December 6th, so Pere Noel visits then and on Christmas Day.
There are several stories about Babouschka in Russia. One is that she put off traveling with the Wise Men to see the Baby Jesus, instead opting to have a party, and regretted it afterward. So she set out every year to find the baby Jesus and give Him her gifts. Instead, she does not find him and gives the gifts to the children she finds along the way. Another story is that she purposefully misled the wisemen, and soon realized her sin. She places gifts at the bedsides of Russian children, hoping that one of them is the baby Jesus and that He will forgive her sins.
Christmas shopping has been a tradition since the early 19th century. By 1820 stores advertised Christmas shopping, and by 1840 there were already separate holiday ads that featured Santa. In 1890 the Salvation Army began dressing up unemployed workers as Santa and having them solicit donations throughout New York. You can still see those Santas outside stores and on street corners today.
Yet it was Clement Clarke Moore, and Episcopal Minister, and Thomas Nast, a cartoonist, that brought us the epitome of our modern day Santa. In 1822 he wrote a long poem titled, An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas. It is what we now know as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and it gave us many of the modern day characteristics of Santa such as his sleigh, laughter, and ability to fly up a chimney. It was Nast that drew the cartoon of Santa in 1881 that depicted him with a round belly, white beard, large smile, and carrying a sack of toys. He gave Santa the red and white suit that we know so well today. He also provided Santa with his North Pole workshop, elves, and Mrs. Claus.