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Santa Claus: Good Old Saint Nick

Author : Peter Boxall

Submitted : 2009-10-27 05:16:58    Word Count : 663    Popularity:   79

Tags:   santa claus, christmas, st nicholas

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The original idea of Santa Claus, (or Father Christmas in Britain, or Papa Noël in France, etc.) came from St. Nicholas. He was a very pious fellow, born in Lycia, Turkey, in the early 4th century. After his parents died, he totally dedicated his life to Christ and joined a Lycian seminary.

It’s been said that he performed miracles of the same magnitude as Jesus. One example that was particularly memorable was the raising of his arms to still a violent storm at sea. This prompted the people to name him the patron saint of sailors.
While still quite young, Nicholas was appointed bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor. He became famous for his generosity, especially towards children.

That image has obviously survived the ages. But it didn’t impress the Roman emperor of that time, who threw him in prison. And there he stayed for many years until a new emperor, Constantine, came into power.

Constantine was a Christian, and freed Nicholas, who became a member of Rome’s first Church council in 325. St. Nicholas died on December 6, 342, but his name lived on. He was named the patron saint of Sicily, Greece and Russia, as well as the patron saint of all children.

During his productive days, St. Nicholas used to ride from town to town on a donkey, converting people to Christianity, and helping the poor, especially the children. On December 6th, his Christian feast day, he’d leave gifts beside the hearth: fruit, nuts, candies, and wood and clay figurines. These were more practices that have been adopted by the modern day Santa Claus.

The Dutch were the only ones to hold onto the St. Nicholas tradition. They put an image of him on the prow of the first Dutch ship to sail to America. They also named the first church built in New York City after him. They brought a couple of other traditions with them, too.

Back in the 16th century, the Dutch put clogs by the hearth on the night St. Nicholas was to come to leave gifts. They filled the wooden shoes with straw, to feed his donkey. St. Nicholas would leave a small gift in the clog in return.

It was also the Dutch name for St. Nicholas that eventually became Santa Claus. The Dutch called St. Nicholas “Sint Nikolass”, which got changed to the Americanized version, “Sinterklass”. When the English took control of New Amsterdam in the 17th century, Sinterklass was Anglicized to Santa Claus.
One aspect of St. Nicholas that’s really changed is his appearance. He was a tall, slender man and, although he did have a long white beard, that was about the only physical resemblance he had to the jolly, big bellied Santa Claus of today.

There were two things that aided in his conversion – a poem and a cartoon. We really are influenced by the media, and that’s a good example of it. One of the most famous poems ever written is “The Night Before Christmas”, by Dr. Clement Clarke Moore. He wrote it for his children, and kept it within the family because he didn’t want his peers, all classical scholars, to know he’d “stooped so low” as to write a simple children’s poem.

However, a “friend” took a copy of the poem and submitted it to a newspaper. It was quickly picked up by a magazine, and soon became published all across America. The description of Santa Claus in the poem gradually influenced people’s image of him.
The other influence that changed Santa’s physical appearance was a series of cartoons by Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for “Harper’s Weekly”. From 1863 1886, Nast published a series of cartoons involving Santa Claus and his activities. They showed him during the year, making games & toys, checking on children’s behavior, and receiving children’s “wish lists”. They also depicted him as increasingly roly poly.

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