The day is creeping up on is, before we know it dear old Saint Nick will be leaving toys for all ages. He does it every year. He spreads cheer and puts a smile on the faces of children and adults alike. But, who is this mystical creature that travels the whole world in just one night with handmade toys and cheer for everyone?
He is legendary. Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds and hundreds of years. But, he wasn’t always referred to as Santa Claus. The Santa Claus that we know today is mesh of tales and legends from all different countries and cultures. Like America, our vision of Santa Claus is a melting pot.
In 280 A.D. lived a monk named Saint Nicholas. He was known for his kindness and selflessness. Any tale that was attached to this man was about his gift giving. Everywhere he traveled he gave gifts, whether they were gifts of money or other material objects. Saint Nicholas also traveled to find people who were sick and help them back to health. Many years after his tales began spreading he was known as the protector of children and sailors. He was celebrated on December 6th, the day of his death. People began to link this day with a day of luck in getting married or making large purchases. During the Renaissance Saint Nicholas was Europe’s most popular saint. After the Protestant Reformation, Saint Nicholas was still very popular, especially in Holland.
Towards the end of the 18th century Saint Nicholas starting venturing to American culture. In December of 1773 and 1774 a New York newspaper featured article about Dutch families celebrating the feast of his death on December 6th.
So where did we get the name Santa Claus? From the Dutch; they had the Sinter Klaas which was a shortened way of saying Saint Nicholas is Dutch. From Sinter Klaas, the American culture got the name Santa Claus.
But Santa Claus is not simply derived from Saint Nicholas. There were many figures of gift givers all over the world. In Switzerland and Germany they believed that Kris Kringle or Christkind delivered gifts to all of the well-behaved children. Christkind meant “Christ child” and he or “it” (to be politically correct) was an angel-like figure who often times joined Saint Nicholas in his travels.
In Scandinavia, Jultomten was a jolly elf who brought gifts. He traveled on a sleigh pulled by goats.
In Russia, the legend has it that an elderly woman by the name of Babouschka pointed travelers in the wrong direction so that they wouldn’t be able to find Jesus. She later felt so badly about what she did that she wanted to find the men and apologize, but they were nowhere to be found. So she began leaving gifts for children every January 5, in hopes that one of the children will be baby Jesus and he will forgive her for what she did.
There are many other legends and tales regarding Santa Claus type figures from all over the world, from all different cultures. What matters is the legends and tales, not who the real Santa Claus is. The mystery of exactly where and how Santa Claus came to be makes it all more fun.
Christmas isn’t just about giving gifts and waiting for Santa Claus. It is a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. Sadly, it’s become so Hallmark that many people who are not of active faith don’t realize why they even celebrate Christmas. Personally, I’m not one of a strong Christian faith, but I love Christmas. It’s a funny thing, if you ask me. But, regardless of your faith, this is a time a year for family and loving and giving!
When you’re up late on Christmas Eve in hopes to hear the pitter patter of reindeer on your roof, at least now you’ll know a little bit more about the jolly old fella whose up there.