The Origins of Santa Claus
On the morning of December 25, millions of American children gather with their families around the Christmas trees to open gifts left there by Santa Claus. Did you ever wonder who the original Santa Claus was and how he evolved into the jolly, North Pole dweller we know and love today?
The historical roots of Santa Claus come from many sources. The earliest known inspiration for the legend comes from the fourth century in the form of Saint Nicholas of Myra, a Greek Christian figure known for his generosity to the poor. According to ancient legend, Saint Nickolas did not like to be seen and left his gifts at night. Even back then, children were sent to bed early so that Saint Nickolas might come.
Mentions of Santa Claus types of figures appear in Germanic lore and various northern European religions that thrived before Christianity took hold. In the thirteenth century Odin, an Icelandic God, was believed to leave gifts for children who filled their boots with carrots, or straw for his fearsome eight-legged flying horse.
Throughout Christendom, Saint Nickolas embodied the spirit of charity and brother. He was remembered on Saint Nickolas Eve death, which was celebrated on December 6 and marked the beginning of the Christmas season in Medieval Europe. He left gifts for children in exchange for the straw they left in their shoes for his horses.
After the Protestant Reformation outlawed the worship of Catholic saints, such as Saint Nickolas, several variations developed. People did not want to give up the idea of a gift-giving saint. In Germany Weihnachtsmann left children gifts in the night. England had Father Christmas, and France had Pèrè Noël.
The American version of Santa Claus seems to have originated from a Dutch legend about Sinter Klaas, which settlers brought to America in the 17th century. Americans embraced the idea of Santa Claus, who was said to deliver gifts to good boys and girls on Christmas Eve. It was Dr. Clement Clarke Moore who gave Santa Clause the sleigh and the eight flying reindeer when he wrote “The Night Before Christmas” in 1822.
To many Americans, Santa Claus embodies the spirit of giving. To celebrate the nature of Santa Claus during the Christmas holidays, many people share gifts with family, friends, and charitable causes.