BY KRISHAE FRANCO
We’ve all heard the stories of Santa Claus as little kids. About the elves and his workshop. About the naughty and nice list. About the reindeer and bags of presents. About the chimneys and stockings. About the milk and cookies. We’ve heard all the myths and fables. But where did Santa come from? Why is he such a prevalent being? Who is Santa Claus?
The earliest origins of Santa Claus date back multiple centuries ago in an ancient city named Patara. The persona of Santa Claus is based on a monk named St. Nicholas, who was known for his goodwill and holiness. Similar to the Santa we all know, St. Nicholas traveled throughout his country. It was rumored that he had given up all his inherited riches to assist those in need. St. Nicholas began to grow in popularity as the years passed and people came to know him as the protector of children. His death—on December 6—became a feast day of celebration in his honor. But how did St. Nicholas spread to American culture and develop into the legend we know today?
The buzz of St. Nicholas first appeared in a New York newspaper as Dutch families were seen coming together to celebrate the feast day in December of 1773 and 1774. The Dutch language is credited with the reason why we often call him Santa Claus instead of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas in Dutch is translated to Sint Nikolaas, abbreviated to Sinter Klaas. The tales of SinterKlaas began to spread even more in 1809 thanks to a man named Washington Irving who mentioned him in a book he wrote called The History of New York. However, Sinter Klaas was described differently than our modern-day illustration of Santa Claus. Instead of being represented as a jolly old man dressed in red, he was characterized as a rascal wearing yellow stockings paired with a red coat, topped off with a blue three-cornered hat.
Our present-day depiction of Santa Claus is thanks to the poem Twas The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore. He normalized the Santa Claus we all heard stories about. The one who travels through neighborhoods in a flying sleigh pulled by reindeer and sneaks down chimneys. Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, helped push this portrayal of Santa Claus when he drew his impression of Santa based on Moore’s poem.
It wasn’t long until stores began using Santa Claus to aid advertisements of Christmas shopping. The stories of Santa Claus fascinated children. Shops used this fascination to their advantage to lure children and parents to their stores where they would get a chance to see Santa Claus in real life. His narrative continued to shape and grow throughout the centuries, morphing into Santa Claus we see every December.
That is the story of how one guy from Turkey transformed into a widespread figure that all children will come to know. How all the stories we heard as kids came to be. How he impacted the way families celebrate Christmas. How St. Nicholas became Santa Claus.
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