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History of Christmas: Santa Claus

Laney Hoggatt, Co Editor-in-Chief

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Shining eyes, red nose, jelly belly: the man that children wait for hours to see with his white beard, rosy cheeks, and big red suit is a key component to the celebration of this holiday. Santa has a history of his own. According to History.com, Santa is believed to have originated from a monk from hundreds of years ago named Saint Nicholas. He was born around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. St. Nicholas was known for his kindness and pity which caused him to become the subject of many stories. It is said that he gave away all his money and moved out to the countryside in order to aid the poor and sick. One of his most popular stories was that he saved three poor sisters from becoming slaves or prostitutes by giving their father enough dowry for each to get married. After his death, on Dec. 6, he became known as the protector of children. On the anniversary of his passing, it was common for people to make a large purchase or to get married.

St. Nicholas’ story traveled to America in Dec. 1773 through the Dutch. The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). According to History.com, Washington Irving helped popularize Sinter Klaas in 1809. Sinter Klaas looked very different. According to History.com, he was 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.”

Christmas was not advertised in stores until 1820. The idea of seeing Santa started in 1841 when thousands of children visited a Philadelphia shop to see a life-size Santa Claus model. Early in the 1890s, the Salvation Army was in need of money, so they could pay for free Christmas meals to needy families. They got the idea to dress up unemployed men as Santa Claus and sent them to the streets of New York to collect donations. Those Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the street corners of American cities ever since.

An Episcopal minister, Clement Clarke Moore in 1822, wrote an extensive Christmas poem for his three daughters which he named “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” which was later “Twas a Night Before Christmas.” Moore’s poem is a big reason that people see Santa Claus as a “right jolly old elf” with a bigger figure and the ability to go up and down the chimney with a little nod of his head. His poem helped popularize the idea that Santa Claus flew from house to house on Christmas Eve in “a miniature sleigh” led by eight flying reindeer and leaving presents for well-behaved children. According to History.com, in 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem which appeared in Harper’s Weekly, and depicted Santa as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children. Nast was who gave Santa his infamous bright red suit outlined with white fur, workshop in the North Pole, helper elves, and his wife, Mrs. Claus.

Similar Santa-like figures were popular all over the world. The Swiss and Germans believed that Christkind or Kris Kringle delivered presents to deserving children. Christkind which means “Christ child,” is an angel-like figure that accompanied St. Nicholas on his holiday missions. In Scandinavia, there is a jolly elf named Jultomten who gives gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. English legend says that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children’s stockings with holiday treats. The French believe in Pere Noel. Russia’s version of Santa is an elderly woman named Babouschka who purposely gave the wise men wrong directions to Bethlehem so they would not find Jesus. She later felt guilty, but was unable to find the wise men to undo the damage. According to History.com, every Jan. 5, Babouschka visits Russian children leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus, and she will be forgiven. The Italians have a similar story about a woman called La Befana who is a kind witch that rides a broomstick down chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children and coal for those who have been naughty.

Rudolph The the Red-Nosed Reindeer came over a hundred years after his eight flying counterparts. He was the creation of Robert L. May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department store. In 1939, May wrote a Christmas-themed story-poem to bring holiday traffic into his store. He used a similar rhyme pattern to “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” May told the story of a young reindeer named Rudolph who was teased by the others because of his red nose. When Christmas Eve turned foggy, Santa thought that he would not be able to deliver gifts that night, but Rudolph’s nose saved the day. Almost two and a half million copies of the story were sold in 1939 according to History.com. Ten years later, one of May’s friends, Johnny Marks, wrote a short song based on Rudolph’s story. It was recorded by Gene Autry and sold over two million copies. Since 1964, the story has been translated into 25 languages and been made into a television movie.

It is believed that Christmas trees started in Northern Europe about 1000 years ago. People would bring in branches in hopes of a flower growing around Christmas. However, until the 16th century, nobody brought the full tree into their homes. According to whychristmas.com, the first person to bring a Christmas Tree into a house was the 16th-century German preacher Martin Luther. The story is that, one night before Christmas, he was walking through the forest and looked up to see the stars shining through the tree branches. It was so beautiful, that he went home and told his children that it reminded him of Jesus, who left the stars of heaven to come to earth at Christmas.

Germany started the tradition of decorating the tree, however. They decorated the tree with food like gingerbread and golden-covered apples. The tee topper would be baby Jesus. The topper changed overtime to an angel or star. Christmas trees became popular when Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband from Germany, decorated the castle during Christmas time with them in 1848. The London News depicted this event through illustration. This illustration became popular all across the United States and the United Kingdom. Trees were later decorated with candles to represent stars.

The tradition of giving gifts came from the three wise men and how they brought gifts to baby Jesus. Stockings came from the story of St. Nicholas. Presents are opened at different times during the month. Children from Holland open their presents on St. Nicholas’ Eve, Dec. 4. In Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic and some other European countries, presents are usually opened on St. Nicholas’ Day, Dec. 5. Children in the U.K., U.S.A., and many other countries, including Japan, typically open their presents on Christmas Day. The latest time people open presents is Jan. 6. This is called Epiphany and is mostly celebrated in Spain and Mexico.

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About the Writer
Laney Hoggatt, Co Editor-in-Chief

I am a senior. This is my third year reporting and second year being an editor. I typically write features articles. I am the choir president and am in A Capella choir and Encore choir. In my free time, I enjoy writing, singing, and binge-watching t.v shows and movies. I spend most of my time with my friends and family. I love dogs and will definitely ask to see pictures.

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History of Christmas: Santa Claus