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Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas or Kris Kringle, has a long history rooted in Christmas customs. He is best known today as the jolly man in red who brings toys to good girls and boys on Christmas Eve, but his story dates back to the 3rd century when Saint Nicholas walked the earth and became the patron saint of children. Discover how two New Yorkers—Clement Clark Moore and Thomas Nast—were major influences on the Santa Claus millions of children wait for each Christmas Eve, from his earliest origins to the shopping mall Santas of today.
The St. Nicholas Legend: Who Is the Real Santa Claus?
Santa Claus’ legend can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. Nicholas is thought to have been born around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. St. Nicholas, who was widely admired for his piety and kindness, became the subject of numerous legends. He is said to have given away all of his inherited wealth and traveled throughout the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the most well-known stories about St. Nicholas is the time he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could marry. Also, you must try to play this Is Santa Real Quiz.
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Nicholas’ popularity grew over time, and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on December 6, the anniversary of his death. This was traditionally thought to be a lucky day for making large purchases or getting married. St. Nicholas was Europe’s most popular saint by the Renaissance. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when saint veneration was discouraged, St. Nicholas retained a positive reputation, particularly in Holland.
Sinter Klaas Visits New York Around the end of the 18th century, St. Nicholas made his first forays into American popular culture. A New York newspaper reported in December 1773, and again in 1774, that groups of Dutch families had gathered to commemorate the anniversary of his death.
Nick’s Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas, inspired the name Santa Claus (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). At the annual meeting of the New-York Historical Society in 1804, John Pintard, a member of the society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas. The engraving’s background features now-familiar Santa images, such as stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace.
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Gift-giving, primarily centered on children, has been an important part of the Christmas celebration since the holiday’s revival in the early nineteenth century. In 1820, stores began advertising Christmas shopping, and by the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which frequently featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus.
Thousands of children visited a Philadelphia store in 1841 to see a life-size Santa Claus model. It was only a matter of time before stores began to entice children and their parents by offering a glimpse of a “live” Santa Claus. The Salvation Army needed money in the early 1890s to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. They started dressing up unemployed men in Santa Claus suits and sending them out into New York’s streets to solicit donations. Since then, those well-known Salvation Army Santas have been ringing bells on the streets of American cities.