It’s almost Christmas and that means families across the country will be expecting a visit from Santa Claus, but do you know the real story behind the jolly man in red and his eight tiny reindeer?
The real story of the modern-day Santa Claus began years ago in a faraway land and has grown over the years as his myth has taken hold in popular culture.
Known as Santa, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, or Father Christmas, the notion of a fat and jolly man carrying a sack while wearing a red suit and delivering presents to good girls and boys didn’t always exist.
The legend of the modern-day Santa Claus started near a town called Myra in what is now Turkey back in 280 A.D. when a deeply pious bishop known as St. Nicholas traveled the countryside giving his wealth to the poor and sick.
He even saved three sisters from slavery by giving them a dowry so they could get married, according to A&E’s History. The legend of St. Nicholas grew as he continued his many works of charity and soon he became known as a protector of children who would leave gifts throughout the year to brighten their spirits.
St. Nicholas’s many miracles earned him the name Wonderworker, and he became known as the patron saint of sailors, merchants, repentant thieves, children, and students.
His birthday, Dec.6, was designated a feast day by the church and soon became a lucky day to make large purchases or get married.
Dutch migrants brought the legend of St. Nicholas to America and in the early 18-century pictures and stories of the man in red began to spread. Now known as Sinter Klaas, he became the subject of folklore when Washington Irving wrote A History Of New York in 1809.
The legend of St. Nick combined with similar gift giving figures from around the world in the melting pot of New York City.
Swiss migrants brought the name Kris Kringle and the idea of the naughty and nice list. From Scandinavia came the legend of an elf riding a sleigh while English immigrants taught their children that Father Christmas would fill their stockings. An Italian holiday story tells of a kind witch who would enter the home through the chimney and deliver presents to children.
In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” first described Santa Claus with his now famous sleigh, bag of toys, reindeer, and use of a chimney.
Between 1820 and 1840, the modern idea of Christmas and gift giving came to life, and newspapers started to run full-page ads with the new Santa Claus featured front and center.
In 1841 a life-size Santa Claus model was on display in a Philadelphia store window, and soon, live Santa Clauses could be found in stores across the country.
It was cartoonist Thomas Nast who drew Santa in 1881 with a white beard and red suit complete with elves, a North Pole workshop, and wife Mrs. Claus.
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer didn’t come along until 1939 when Robert L. Mays wrote a short holiday poem to help bring customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.
Today, Santa is seen as a jolly fat man with a long white beard who wears a red suit trimmed with white, who uses a sleigh pulled by reindeer to fly through the sky and deliver toys from his bag to good girls and boys around the world in one night.
So, when winter’s night becomes Christmas Eve and all good little children are snug in their beds, remember St. Nicholas whose piety and generosity inspired a legend that spanned the globe.
[Photo by Scott Roth/Invision/AP]