The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions / Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Santa Claus

The tradition of Santa Claus goes back centuries and is one of the reasons why we give gifts today. Even though no mention of this was made previously. That’s because the tradition of Santa Claus is a story that deserves a section all by itself.

Santa Claus, as we know and love him today didn’t start out that way. It all began in the 4th century A.D. With a man by the name of St. Nicholas.

What bridges the gap between modern day Santa Claus and the legend of St. Nicholas was his endearing acts of generosity.

It is said that in one particular act of kindness and generosity St. Nicholas save the lives of three sisters. The story goes that three sisters were to be sold by their father into slavery, or prostitution, because he was a poor, but God fearing man, and had no dowries to bestow upon his daughters to save them from this terrible future. St. Nicholas heard of this man, and so one night, St. Nicholas ventured off to his home.

Peering in the window, St. Nicholas saw the three sisters fast asleep in their bed. He noticed that they had just finished washing up their stockings and hung them to dry by the window and the fireplace.

As the story goes, St. Nicholas then took many gold pieces from his pockets and began throwing them through the window and down the chimney.

Amazingly enough, the gold pieces fell into the sister’s stockings, and when they awoke in the morning, they found their stockings filled with shimmering gold pieces that saved their lives from a destitute future.

That’s just one act of charity St. Nicholas performed. And it is the most well known and retold account. He performed many other everyday “miracles” rescuing the poor from the fates that awaited them.

His legend spread throughout Europe like wildfire, and hopeful children would leave their stockings hung beside the chimney. And in some cultures, their wooden shoes sitting on the hearth. They would awake in the mornings to find all sorts of presents and goodies filled their empty stockings, or shoes.

What is of important significance about Nicholas was at the time he was performing these acts of kindness, he was not a Saint. He was an ordinary man with an extraordinary heart. He cared for his fellow man and was a devout follower of Christianity modeling his life around it. Because of his good deeds and acts of charity to the less fortunate, he ascended to Sainthood.

But, the then St. Nicholas looked nothing like the Santa Claus we are familiar with in today’s American society however.

This new vision of Santa came long after, but his character was based on the legendary St. Nicholas. And what a wonderful person to base a figure loved by children the world over after!

Around the 17th century in Britain, there was a notoriously jolly man that delivered gifts to children across the country on Christmas Eve, lovingly referred to as Father Christmas. He wasn’t exactly our vision of Santa Claus, but it’s pretty darn close.

Father Christmas was a somewhat portly fellow, had a white beard, an older gentleman with a cheerful face, and dressed in a green robe trimmed in white fur that carried a staff. Basically, he looked like an older Christian fellow. Or maybe “Gandalf” from the Lord of the Rings? Yeah. You get the picture.

If you watch the classic Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, and spy the “Ghost of Christmas Past”, well that is similar to what Father Christmas looked like. With the white beard and hair of course ;-).

But, how did Santa get is name?

Chalk that one up to the Dutch. People from the Netherlands also had created their own version of Santa. But to them, he was called by the name “Sinterklaas”. Sounds a lot like “Santa Claus”, right?

It doesn’t end there though. Wonder where all Santa’s little helpers came from? Yep, I’m speaking about the elves. Well, those were a contribution of the Dutch too!

The story goes that St. Nicholas set free a little Ethiopian boy named “Piter” from a Myra marketplace where he was to serve indefinitely throughout his life. Because of this, Piter decided to devote his life to his savior, St. Nicholas, and help him out with his work.

Later on, the one “helper” became many. And so we have Santa’s helpers, the elves, helping Santa get ready for the biggest night of the year, Christmas Eve.

On an interesting side note, “Piter” was give this name to represent another saint that went by the name of Peter. You may have heard of him ;-).

So, we know where Santa came from, and how he got his name, but how did he go from the look of Father Christmas, to jolly old Saint Nick?

That one’s easy.

On December 23, 1823, the Troy, New York local newspaper called the “Sentinel” released a moving Christmas poem entitled “A Visit From St. Nicholas”. But, we know it today as “The Night Before Christmas”.

As we all know, from our own childhood’s, Santa is portrayed as a portly old fellow with a red nose, white beard, and fur trimmed outfit. We also know from the poem that Santa is equipped to do his nightly rounds with a sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. What, not 9?

Nope. Rudolph wasn’t thought up until a little bit later.

Santa began donning the red outfit sometime later in 1863 when an American cartoonist by the name of Thomas Nast that appeared in “Harper’s Weekly”. Since then, Santa has been, for the most part, looking the same. Later on, in about 1885, Santa made his first appearance on a Christmas greeting card wearing his traditional red clothes and looking mainly as he does, still, to this very day.

The History of the American Christmas And Its Traditions

Brief Introduction

Chapter 1 Christmas: Where It All Began

Chapter 2 What Is A Christmas Tradition?

Chapter 3 Where Did American Christmas Traditions Come From?

Chapter 4 The Christmas Tree

Chapter 5 The Yule Log

Chapter 6 Christmas Caroling

Chapter 7 Gift Giving

Chapter 8 The Candy Cane

Chapter 9 Santa Claus

Chapter 10 The Christmas Card

Chapter 11 The Poinsettia

Chapter 12 Conclusion

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