Origin of Santa Claus


Elena Keller

When people are asked to picture Santa Claus, they imagine a plump, jolly old man in a red suit. In reality, the origins of Santa Claus date back to the 3rd century with St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children.

According to History.com, St. Nicholas was a monk in what is now modern-day Turkey, who was known for his religious devotion and kindness. Legends say that he gave up all of his inherited wealth and traveled to help the poor and sick. His most well-known story is when he saved three girls from being sold into prostitution and slavery by giving them a dowry so they could get married.

On the anniversary of his death, December 6th, a feast day is held throughout Europe to celebrate St. Nicholas’ kindness. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas became the most popular saint in Europe and remained popular even after the Protestant Reformation when the worship of saints was discouraged.

St. Nicholas was first welcomed in America in the 18th century when Dutch settlers gathered in 1774 to honor the anniversary of his death. The name Santa Claus came from St. Nicholas’ Dutch nickname Sinter Klass, which was a shortening of the name Sint Nikolaas.

The idea that Santa Claus was a “right jolly old elf” emerged in 1822 with Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” also known as “‘Twas The Night Before Christmas.” This poem made famous the idea that Santa Claus was a jolly, old man who flew around the world to deliver presents to children.

In 1881, Thomas Nast drew the first modern image of Santa Claus in the newspaper Harper’s Weekly. The image featured a round, jolly old man with a white beard and a sack full of toys. Children immediately embraced Santa Claus, and the legend of Santa Claus working with his elves in the North Pole was born.

Over time, Santa Claus has become a fixture in the celebration of Christmas. Even hundreds of years later, children anticipate his arrival and oftentimes don’t realize that jolly, old St. Nick is actually a Middle Eastern monk.