Who Is Santa Claus?

Santa Claus. Saint Nick. Sinter Klaas. Pere Noel. Father Christmas. Babo Natalie. Ded Moroz. Tim Allen ran down a long list of “his” alternate names for the big man in the red suit in that scene in The Santa Clause. But who is Santa, really, and where did he come from?

Third Century Origins

From most accounts, St. Nicholas of Myra is the original Santa Claus. In the region now known as Turkey, Saint Nicholas was born around 270 A.D. The records of his life are sparse, and there’s a better than even chance some things have been, let’s say, embellished here and there. Santa is supposed to be a man of mystery, so we’re OK with that.

Word is that his family died during an epidemic when he was a child, so, taking a cue from one of the many proclamations of Jesus in the Bible, he took to heart the advice to “sell his possessions and give the money to the poor.” Nicholas proceeded to use his inheritance to help the needy and downtrodden. In short order, from his relentless service to others and the church, he was named the Bishop of Myra.

The Ultimate Patron Saint

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children, which makes a lot of sense, given he’s the original Kris Kringle. However, he’s the patron saint of many other folks, too. He’s also known as the patron saint of sailors and those who work around the sea. And of brides, bakers, bankers, firefighters, judges, merchants, millers and spinsters. And we’re just getting started. If you’re a prisoner, preacher, poet, pharmacist, or perfumer, Saint Nicholas is your guy. And don’t forget pawnbrokers, rag pickers, thieves and newlyweds. We’re still just getting started; there are well over a hundred other benefactor groups of Nicholas’ sainthood.

Saint Nicholas Day

Again, considering the limitations of sparse historical records, Saint Nicholas died on December 6, 343 A.D. While the exact year may be under some dispute, lots of folks have celebrated December 6 as Saint Nicholas Day for a few hundred years now. Near the end of the 18th century, a New York paper ran a story about Dutch families celebrating Saint Nick’s death, thereby beginning the process of linking Saint Nicholas with the Christmas season.

Sinter Klaas… Santa Claus…

Those Dutch folks, particularly keen on the Saint Nicholas celebrations, called him Sint Nikolaas. The familiar short abbreviation is “Sinterklaas.” And there we have it—the likely origin of the English term, Santa Claus.

About The Gifts…

There are lots of stories documenting Saint Nicholas’ generosity and selflessness. One such story sheds light on the whole idea of a secret nice guy smuggling gifts into our homes.

A poor resident of Nicholas’ town had three daughters. At that time, families had to offer a dowry to prospective husbands to entice them into marriage. With no prospect of saving up suitable dowries, the daughters’ future included being sold into slavery and possibly prostitution. Hey, don’t blame the messenger; I’m just telling the story.

On three different occasions, as the daughters reached suitable marriage age, “someone” anonymously tossed bags of gold through the windows of the poor man’s home. According to legend, these gifts to the family landed in shoes and stockings drying in front of the fire. Hmm. Gifts secretly delivered into stockings. Sound familiar?

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