The Origins of Santa Claus: A Saintly Tale

The Origins of Santa Claus: A Saintly Tale

Nicholas VanSuch, Senior Staff Writer

Many people know about Santa Claus, the jolly old man who brings presents to children around the world, all delivered in a single night. He rides his sleigh, and eats lots of milk and cookies. While you may already know this tale, you may not know how he came to be. The figure known today as Santa Claus derives from the story of the Catholic Saint Nicholas. 

The story of St. Nicholas begins when he was born some time in the third century, according to the St. Nicholas Center. He was born to wealthy parents, however tragedy struck when they died in an epidemic. Nicholas was still young, and followed the words of Jesus due to being raised as a devout Christian. These beliefs led him to use his entire inheritance to help people in need. He became known throughout the land by others because of his generosity. He would always help the sickly, the suffering, and the needy.

While Nicholas was known for his generosity, he was also thrown into prison, but his fault was not a legitimate wrong. The Roman Emperor of that time was known for persecuting Christians in that era, and sent many Christians, including Nicholas, into prison. He was later released, and died years later. The day of his death became a day of celebration due to the generous life he led, and was known as St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. 

During the Protestant era, there was a negative view of saints, so the St. Nicholas traditions were dissolved, and this dissolution continued when the Protestants found their way to the New World. Thus, the tradition of St. Nicholas began dying off in North America. However, this tradition of putting small gifts inside of shoes continued to occur in Europe. It is believed that the Dutch continued the tradition of St. Nicholas, and continued this in their territories in America–particularly around the Hudson Bay area. This tradition began to spread as stories and other traditions were being added. Some of these include poems, or the tradition of hanging stockings above the fireplace to be filled with treats.

In the 19th century, there was a cultural transition in America. Many wanted to domesticate the Christmas holiday, since the Protestant era eliminated it. A new book was published that depicted a Santa Claus, derived from the St. Nicholas’ name in Dutch, Sinter Klaas, who came from the North and gave presents on December 24, Christmas Eve, rather than St. Nicholas Day. This tradition began to spread and grow, and led to the Christmas icon that we know today. Now the next time you’re opening presents on Christmas morning, you know where the tradition came from, and the story of St. Nicholas.