He Goes By Many Names – But Who Exactly Is He?
Santa Claus is known all around the world and each year on Christmas Eve children can barely contain their excitement as they await his arrival and the Christmas presents he is sure to bring. Santa Claus in fact goes by a number of different names including Father Christmas, St. Nicholas,
Kris Kringle, Pelzinckle, and more. No matter what you call him, his history remains the same.
When people think about Santa Claus we picture a jolly old man dressed in a red velvet suit. While this is true of today, it wasn’t always the case. The story of Santa Claus can be traced back to the 3rd century, making this story a very old one.
St. Nicholas the Monk
In order to start at the beginning of the story, you’ll need to begin with a monk who was actually called St. Nicholas. He was born in what we now call Turkey and was known by all to be incredibly generous and kind. He himself was quite rich but he chose to give away all that wealth and dedicate himself to helping others. Thanks to his kind acts he was called the protector of sailors and children and is among the most popular of all the saints in Europe.
One of his acts of kindness actually helps to describe why we hang stockings and tell the children that Santa comes down the chimney. St. Nicholas heard of man who had three daughters all of which were unable to get married because the man was poor and couldn’t provide a dowry for them. One night St. Nicholas climbed atop their house and dropped gold down their chimney so there would be a dowry. As the gold was dropped it happened to fall into a stocking that was hanging there to dry. He repeated this for all three daughters and suddenly word spread. He died on December 6 and to this day it is thought of to be a lucky day as people celebrate all he did.
Modern Day Santa
Obviously St. Nicholas is very different than our modern day Santa, so how did the transition take place? Somewhere around the 16th century his name was changed to Father Christmas in the UK, and then he popped up in other countries such as Germany (Christ Kind), and France (Père Nöel). It wasn’t until the Dutch came to America that he spread over the ocean. They changed his name from Kris Kringle or Sinterklaas which gradually changed to his modern day name of Santa Claus.
Celebrating in Different Ways
What is really interesting is the different ways countries celebrate the arrival of Santa Claus, starting with the date. While Dec. 24th is the most popular and common night that Santa visits and delivers presents, in some countries in Europe they leave clogs out for him on the eve of Dec. 5. This allows them to open their gifts on Dec. 6, the day that St. Nicholas passed away. As well, the “presents” left are often candies, fruits, and nuts that people are meant to share with loved ones, just as St. Nicholas did.
In some countries you will find witches, gnomes, and goat creatures to be part of the Christmas traditions, however Santa Claus is still present in some way or another. As for where the traditions have derived from, the story of Santa Claus borrows from the Dutch, Scandinavians, old Catholic teachings, Pagans, Christians, the English, and German. That makes Santa Claus pretty multi-cultural when you think about it!
Getting in Touch with Santa
Today a big part of the tradition is allowing kids to get in touch with Santa Claus so they can give them their Christmas wish list. Kids can send a letter to Santa through the Santa Mail program and they can even use the Santa Claus phone number to give him a call at 1-877- HI-NORAD. In 1955, NORAD started using the “Santa Tracker”, which is a fictitious tracker that lets kids know about Santa sightings on Christmas Eve. Today you can even track Santa on the NORAD website. Just don’t forget to leave Santa a “thanks” by leaving a plate of cookies, a cold glass of milk, and
maybe some carrots for his trusty reindeer.