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The Origin and History of Santa Claus (St. Nicholas)

Written By David D'Angelo on Saturday, December 27, 2008 | 12/27/2008

The American version of St. Nicholas,or Santa Claus originally came from the Dutch version called Sint Klaas. The Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (New York) brought this fun and lively tradition (some even say cult) to America.

This version of Santa has given the current myth its visual form and these most curious traditions:

>> Eight flying reindeer, later joined by Rudolph the red nosed reindeer.
>> A home located on or near the North Pole
>> The habit of filling socks or stockings with presents on the night of December 24th.
>> Also the habit of entering houses through the chimney.
>> The most important single source for our modern day version of Santa Claus comes from the Christmas poem A Visit From St. Nicholas by Clement C. Moore.

Finland: Joulupukki

This name comes from the country Finland. Literally meaning: YuleBuck. Nowadays the Joulupukki of Finland resembles the American Santa Claus. Today, Finland is one of the few countries where kids actually see Father Christmas in the act of delivering the presents and probably the only country where the Saint really does ask the children if they behaved during the year. Generally Father Christmasis known as a bearded old man in a fur costume who appears in Yuletide and gives presents.

Origins of Santa's many funny traditions and customs:

Gifts: From St. Nicholas and the Magi (The three wise men from the Orient in the New Testament),

Beard: St. Nicholasis traditionally seen as bearded. The Magi are also bearded!

Costume:The general form of the cloak probably derives from St. Nicholas, although the traditional costumes of the three Magi also may have contributed. The fur linings probably are add-ons to fit the Northern American Myth. The Russian Grandfather Frosthas strong Pagan relations. He is always accompanied by his granddaughter Snegurochka(Snow girl), a merry girl who helps Grandfather Frostprovide a New Year party for children as well as bringing them gifts. He wears a long fur coat covered by bright beautiful cloth (blue or red) trimmed in fur. According to new tradition, Grandfather Frostand Snegurochka live in the town Veliky Ustug from which they begin their New Year journey by troika of white horses. Today Grandfather Frost is connected to New Year celebrations, but before 1917 he was much more related to Christmas. Grandfather Frost and Snegurochka visit children asking them to sing or read a poem, sometimes asking if they were good, and of course giving presents.

Countless legends (no documents exist) are told about this Patron Saintof Giving known as St. Nicholas.Within both Western and EasternChristian Churches similar mythology, or tradition, exists.


According to these legends, St. Nicholas was born in the city of Patara, and traveled to Palestine and Egypt when he was young. He was later imprisoned during persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, but was fortunately released by the more humanitarian Emperor Constantine. He attended the first council of Nicaea in 325.

In the United States and Canada, his name is Santa Claus.

In China, he is called Shengdan Laoren.

In England, his name is Father Christmas, where he has a longer coat and a longer beard.

In France, he's known as Pere Noel.

In Germany, children get presents from Christindl, the Christ Child

In Italy Babbo Natale, which means Father Christmas, is Santa. Children put a pair of their shoes by the door on the day before Epiphany and the following morning they find them filled with small gifts and candy. Italy, like Spain, Portugal and most of the Latin American nations ( or countries speaking Romance Languages), is mostly Catholic. December 25 is a day of more religious observance, remembering the birth of Christ.

The Epiphany, called Little Christmas, is the day for gift giving. However, Babbo Natale does come on Christmas Eve in some parts of Italy.

In Spain children leave their shoes under the Christmas tree the night of January 5th and presents from the Three Kings (Los Reyes Magos: Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar) appear the next morning. Santa Claus is called Papa Noel and some children receive presents both days on December 24th (from Papa Noel) and on January 6th (from the Three Kings).

In Moroccohe is known as Black Peter

In Japan, Santa Clause is called Santa Clause or just "Santa". Children often call him "Santa no ojisan," which means "Uncle Santa."

In Sweden Jultomtenvisits the evening before Christmas day, pulling a big bag of julklappar (Christmas presents) in the deep snow. På Norsk( in Norwegian ) "Julenissen" arrives on the evening of the 24th.

In the Netherlands, he is called Kerstman.

In Finland, he is called Joulupukki.

Sinter Klaasin Dutch. He rides a white horse, leaving gifts in wooden shoes

In Russia, he is called Grandfather Frostthat is "ded moroz" (the second "o" has its accent and the last "z" is pronouned as "s".) He is also called Kris Kringle- which comes from the German term "the Christ Child" (Christ Kind).

In Greek,St. Nicholas is known as Hagios Nikolaos, Bishop of Myra (in the present day Turkey), St Nicholas reportedly died about 350 AD.

Today, this mythical character is still alive and well and is known all over the world as: Nicholas of Myra, Santa Claus or "Santa" in America.

His fame spread rapidly during the Middle Ages and thousands of churches are dedicated to him.

He has been the patron saint of Russia, Moscow, Greece, children, sailors, prisoners, bakers, pawnbrokers, shopkeepers and wolves.

His gift-giving role in Christmas rites probably follows from his fame as the friend of children.

The story also tells that he used to give anonymous donations of gold coins to persons in need. His cult spread in Europe and Christmas presents were distributed on December 6th when the celebration of St. Nicholas took place.


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