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Santa Claus
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

How did Santa Claus originate?

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November 30, 2014 7:31PM

Santa Claus is thought to have originated from the real St. Nicholas, with the "flying Santa" having it's origins in a mix of Norse mythology and the Christmas story. What is known for sure is that the modern, red-suited Santa Claus developed out of a 1931 advertising campaign put on by the Coca Cola company, in which the jolly old gentleman was dressed in red and white, the colors of Coca Cola. This image has continued to the present day.

Saint Nicholas The story of Santa Claus is believed to have originated from the real St Nicholas, who was born in Lycia, Greece (now part of southern Turkey) during the third century.

St Nicholas/Nicolas was brought up in a devout Christian family. His parents taught him to be generous and to serve others. He had a reputation for secretly giving to the poor, and he was also known for his love for children, and his concern for sailors who often worked under some difficult conditions.

Nicholas was persecuted for his faith under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, and died on 6 December 343. After his death, a legend began which said that manna, the nutritious substance God miraculously provided to keep the Israelites alive during their 40 years in the desert, formed on his grave. It was said that this manna could heal ailments and illness.

During the years that followed, many people followed the teachings of St Nicholas, and stories of his incredible generosity and love for children gradually developed into the Santa Claus legend of today. 6 December is celebrated as the festival of St Nicholas.

The name Santa Claus is derived from the Dutch form of "Saint Nicholas". The Dutch in particular are credited with reviving St. Nicholas as the 'gift bringer'. The Dutch form of St Nicholas is Sinterklaas. When the Dutch settled New York, the tradition came with them. By 1773, the name had appeared in the American newspapers as "St A. Claus". Once the New York Historical Society was founded in 1804 with Nicholas as its patron saint, the legend was embellished with additions such as flying reindeer and a sleigh laden with gifts.

Later, more details were added, particularly with the work of illustrator Thomas Nast whose work on the Christmas editions of Harper's Magazine, between the 1860s and 1880s, really help developed the current image of Santa Claus. Drawn by Nast as round and jolly, Santa Claus was also depicted in his workshop at the North Pole, with a list of all the good and bad children. At this stage, Santa was dressed in a dark green coat.

Norse Mythology and Santa in a Flying Sleigh

The 'Father Christmas' figure in a flying sleigh is the result of a mixture of Norse mythology and the Christmas story. However, Santa Claus, as any child knows, really exists - or at least existed a long time ago and his spirit still lives on. 'Santa' actually means 'Saint' (where we get 'sanctify and Santa Maria from) and Claus (pronounced Klowss) is the shortened form of the name Nicholas. So Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was born in Turkey, was a devout Christian and became Bishop of Myra (hence his red robes as 'Father Christmas'). He inherited a large fortune from his parents which he gave, in secret, to the poor. Legend has it that he once left three bags of gold in secret for a father who had three daughters but who would be forced to sell them into slavery as he was too poor to marry them off. He did this by dropping the bags down the chimney where they ended up in the fireplace in shoes (or socks?) drying there. This is where we get our custom of 'hanging up the stockings' from on Christmas Eve. As a result of his good life Nicholas was made a saint and became the patron saint of poor people and of pawnbrokers - hence the pawnbroker sign of three golden balls (representing the three bags of gold). Many miracles were attributed to Nicholas including stilling a storm at sea, and bringing back to life three boys murdered by a cruel innkeeper. As a result Nicholas was made patron saint of sailors and children. So at Christmas, when we give and receive presents as a reminder of the gifts given to the Christ Child by the Wise Men, let's not forget that St Nicholas's spirit of freely giving - in secret - lives on in the traditional Santa Claus.
The story behind Santa Claus is to do with St. Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. He was had a Christian upbringing and had wealthy parents. His mother and father died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering.

There was one story

that tell of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value (money etc.) The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

Hope that helps... we had an assembly on it yesterday at school. I'm sure if you Google story behind Santa you will find out more :) x