Bright red garments, cheerful chubby cheeks and a big white beard; we all know what holiday season it is when we hear the words “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town!”
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Having said that, what a lot of us don’t know is – this legendary character isn’t always regarded in the same light and is, in fact, based on the religious monk named ‘Saint Nick’. This is why, in this article, we’ll be unfolding the actual story behind Santa Claus. Get ready to find out about how the festival of Christmas, the act of gift giving during holidays and Santa Claus become synonymous, what the legendary character means in different countries and how the idea of Santa was brought to life.
So go grab your mince pie, relax on your couch and get ready to unveil the truth behind the much-loved Santa Claus.
Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus – What Is It?
While the character of Santa Claus might not be real, the whole concept of him being a gift-giver has stemmed from the religious personality, Saint Nicholas.
Born in 280 A.D., in a place that’s now known as ‘Turkey’, Saint Nick was popularly known for his kindness; not to mention his deeds of bestowing copious amounts of his inherited property to those in need.
Sure, his acts of kindness put him amongst the many legends but it was Saint Nick’s primary focus on the young that made him a protector of kids.
Speaking of his tales of kindness and generosity, they span far and wide. Not only did he help the people in need but also defended the legal injustices and imperial taxes. You see, his good deeds were never ending…
Saint Nicholas’ acts of kindness didn’t stop with him though; as his popularity spread like wildfire over Europe, more people wanted in on it while celebrating his deeds. This is one of the reasons why December 6 (especially in Dutch countries) is a designated feast day, where people eat special food in the honour of Saint Nick.
What’s more, it’s the Dutch who nicknamed him ‘Sinter Klaas’ which later evolved into ‘Santa Claus’ perhaps because of the blend and development of American and European accents.
Well, further below, you’ll figure out how Santa Claus’ story grew a little different to that of Saint Nick – even though the creation of this character is partly based on his acts of kindness. You’ll also find out other elements that played a part in evolving the monk into a white bearded man, flying in the sky and climbing down chimneys to leave gifts!
Santa Claus – What’s the Real Story?
Whilst it’s become apparent that Saint Nicholas was a selfless fellow, how did his image transform from a saviour of people in need to a jolly good man leaving presents under the bed? Well, initially in America, when Washington Irving’s ‘The History of New York’ was released in 1809, it uncharacteristically described Sinter Klass (the Dutch nickname) as a “rascal” wearing a red waistcoat, yellow stockings and a blue hat.
However, in 1823, the image of Santa Claus was turned into more of a friendly and gentle figure – thanks to the poem “Twas The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore that spoke about him as a “jolly good elf” who had a portly physique and the magical power to climb down chimneys with a simple nod of a head.
Fast forward to 1881, this positive image of Santa Claus was solidified even more by Thomas Nast. A political cartoonist, Nast took inspiration for Clement’s poem and drew a personality with a long, white beard who carried a sack full of gifts for kids.
You see, it was Nast who brought the idea of Santa Claus, his white fur, his wife Mrs Claus, his North Pole workshop and his elves to life with his beautiful drawing!
Christmas and Santa Claus – How Are They Related?
The most awaited question…
To put all your curiosity to rest, it is true that Santa Claus (or Saint Nick) inspires festive thoughts among people but they in no way have anything to do with the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25th – the day all of us celebrate Christmas!
While in the UK there are tales that talk about Santa Claus visiting home on Christmas Eve dropping gifts, the designated day for gift giving in the Netherlands is still December 6.
The tradition goes like this – the previous night, that is on the 5th of December, Dutch kids place their shoes at the front door hoping that Sinter Klaas would fill them up with toys and treats. For them, Sinter Klass also walks on the streets with Black Pete (his helper) giving chocolate letters to kids who’ve been good.
Having said that, although the Dutch continue to follow the original date of celebrations, in the UK, kids wait in anticipation for the arrival of Santa Claus on the night of December 25.
The reason why this happens is simple marketing strategies. By the 1840s, stores started using the image of Santa Claus to promote Christmas shopping and from 1841, they started peaking the curiosity of kids by having a life-sized Santa Claus model in their store.
Since then, the lure of Santa Claus has become synonymous with the concept of giving presents during Christmas. It also turned out to be a master stroke in terms of advertising and tricking people into buying more gifts for everyone.
Santa Claus – What Does It Mean In Different Countries?
In the UK, Santa Claus is known as a jolly old fellow wearing a special hat and red suit. However, in other countries around the world, they have their own take on what Father Christmas looks like.
Let’s take a look!
In Sweden, Tomte, a character that stems from Swedish folklore, is considered as their Santa Claus.
Although it has the appearance of a garden gnome, it portrays the same role and is popular for protecting farmhouses from bad luck. Just like Santa Claus, Tomte too wears a red suit and distributes gifts to kids who’ve been good that year.
Rather than receiving gifts on the 25th of December, kids in Spain need to wait till the 12th day of the festival before getting any presents.
This means, for them, January 6 is when the three wise men get their Christmas gifts. Till then, they’re asked to write letters to one of the magos – Gaspar, Baltasar or Melchor – for their presents.
Along with letters, Spanish kids also leave hay and sweets outside their door just like British kids leave carrots and mince pies for Santa and his reindeer!
In Italy, the arrival of La Befana has been celebrated since the 8th century. She’s basically a friendly witch who flies down the chimney on her broomstick and leaves presents for kids on the night of January 5.
This legend is quite similar to Babouschka’s tale – La Befana feels guilty for giving the wrong directions to wise men and therefore, apologies for the same by using her broomstick to fly over homes and distributing toys and sweet treats to good children.
In the UK, stories of Santa visiting town are rife in almost every home come December. For them, as mentioned before, Santa Claus is characterised as a festive fellow donning a red outfit, riding a sleigh with jingle bells and leaving gifts under the bed. Although he may not be real, Santa Claus does leave a lasting impression on everyone. This has made people in Britain celebrate this festive season to the fullest by decorating their house and hosting a big Christmas feast!
To Sum Up
While Santa Claus may not physically come to town, his impressionable figure is certainly present in every home (in some form or the other!).
That said, now that you know all there is to know about the story of Santa Claus, we hope you enjoy this festive season while indulging in that delicious mince pie and exchanging Christmas gifts!
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