Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas and simply "Santa", is a figure with legendary, mythical, historical and folkloric origins who, in many western cultures, is said to bring gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24.
The New York Historical Society held its first St. Nicholas anniversary dinner on December 6, 1810. John Pintard commissioned artist Alexander Anderson to create the first American image of Nicholas for the occasion. Nicholas was shown in a gift-giving role with children's treats in stockings hanging at a fireplace. The accompanying poem ends, "Saint Nicholas, my dear good friend! To serve you ever was my end, If you will, now, me something give, I'll serve you ever while I live."
The figure of Santa has taken on qualities that only God could have, namely: to know when every child in the world is awakes or asleep; if they were bad or good; to be able to come to each home in the world on the same night; to be the same year to year, never dying, to be in a position to judge who is to receive rewards and punishments; and to have the strength to carry the immense amount of toys in a pack on his back.
Over the course of the medieval period the legend of St Nicholas continued to develop and spread enormously, especially after the theft of his relics and their translation to Bari in southern Italy in 1087. Indeed, the cult of St Nicholas eventually rivalled that of the Virgin Mary in many regions, to judge from church dedications. In addition to becoming the patron of sailors as part of this process, St Nicholas also became known as the patron of children. This important development was a consequence of the popular tale of his rescue from death of three children, who had been pickled for eating by an innkeeper. When combined with his reputation as a gift-giver, all the key elements were in place for the transformation of St Nicholas into the modern giver-of-gifts to children. The most significant manifestation of this, from the perspective of Santa Claus, is the Dutch Sinterklaas.
The name Santa Claus evolved from Nick's Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas). In 1804, John Pintard, a member of the New York Historical Society, distributed woodcuts of St. Nicholas at the society's annual meeting. The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace. In 1809, Washington Irving helped to popularize the Sinter Klaas stories when he referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of New York in his book, The History of New York. As his prominence grew, Sinter Klaas was described as everything from a "rascal" with a blue three-cornered hat, red waistcoat, and yellow stockings to a man wearing a broad-brimmed hat and a "huge pair of Flemish trunk hose."
This Santa was life-sized, jolly, and wore the now familiar red suit. He appeared in magazines, on billboards, and shop counters, encouraging Americans to see Coke as the solution to "a thirst for all seasons." By the 1950s Santa was turning up everywhere as a benign source of beneficence, endorsing an amazing range of consumer products. This commercial success led to the North American Santa Claus being exported around the world where he threatens to overcome the European St. Nicholas, who has retained his identity as a Christian bishop and saint.
The final adaptation of Saint Nicholas to the present Santa Claus occurred in the 1930's, when the Coca-Cola Company hired artist Haddon Sundblom to illustrate Santa Claus for an advertising campaign. Haddon portrayed Santa as more warm and human, for the first time with blue eyes, ruby red lips and a ruddy complexion. This new Santa swept America as the invention of television and mass-media marketing displayed this image in magazines, products, store displays, stationary and decorations.
Although St Nicholas is usually acknowledged as the 'original Santa Claus', we actually know vanishingly little about him for certain; indeed, his very existence has sometimes been called into question, due to the lack of secure references to him in contemporary sources. All that can be said with any degree of confidence is that St Nicholas probably lived in the fourth-century in the Lycian port of Myra, in the south-west of modern Turkey, and that he was a bishop. In addition, it is likely that he died on the 6 December, which was celebrated as his feast day in the medieval church calendar; later accounts also add that St Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea and was vocal in opposing the Arian heresy, which does not seem implausible. One of the earliest legends that was attached to his name tells how St Nicholas heard of a man who could not afford the dowries for his three daughters, with the result that he intended - regretfully - to send them to the brothel to work.
The first Europeans to arrive in the New World brought St. Nicholas. Vikings dedicated their cathedral to him in Greenland. On his first voyage, Columbus named a Haitian port for St. Nicholas on December 6, 1492. In Florida, Spaniards named an early settlement St. Nicholas Ferry, now known as Jacksonville. However, St. Nicholas had a difficult time during the 16th century Protestant Reformation which took a dim view of saints. Even though both reformers and counter-reformers tried to stamp out St. Nicholas-related customs, they had very little long-term success except in England where the religious folk traditions were permanently altered.
The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that 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 be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas's popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.
Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or simply "Santa" is a historical, legendary and mythological character associated with bringing gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The popular North American form Santa Clause originated from a Sint Nicolaas (Saint Nicholas). However, the Dutch Sinterklaas is different from Santa Claus in many ways.