I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and enjoy your families. Don’t let petty things get in the way of the magic that is Christmas. Hope, kindness and the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is why we celebrate this day, so please remember that and in His name, keep the spirit of Christmas in your hearts.
I found this History of Santa Claus and thought I would share. I found it very interesting myself. It helps explain to some of the non-believers out there why we as Christians have Santa and Christ in our celebrations. Enjoy!
Who is Santa Claus?
Santa Claus has a variety of different names in different languages, but they all refer to the person of St. Nicholas who was born many centuries ago in the 4th century (born c 245 AD, and died c350 AD, various sources list various dates) in Lycia, Anatolia, a province on the southwest coast of Asia Minor (present day Turkey). He was born in Patara, a seaport, and traveled. St. Nicholas became a bishop of the church at Myra. Few documents exist which mention him, however legends of his generosity exist throughout most churches. Thousands of churches in the Middle Ages were dedicated to him.
St. Nicholas performed a number of miracles, all associated with gift giving. His feast day was December 6, so think of St. Nicholas on December 6th and December 25th.
In 1823, Clement C. Moore (see below) wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas’, which showed Santa Claus driving a sleigh drawn by “eight tiny reindeer” and in doing so he created an image we all have today. Thomas Nast (see below) drew Santa Claus based on Moore’s description cementing in this image.
The probable origins of various traditions which then spread around the world:
- Gifts: St. Nicholas (gift giver) and the Magi (the three wise men/Persian Priests from Orient bringing gifts for Jesus) and from pagan (Roman) Saturnalia custom.
- Reindeer: Reindeer are from the north (e.g. Finland) and they are cute, Santa needed transportation
- Chimney: St. Nicholas legend (see below). Also, in England and the United states Santa comes secretly and so the entrance must be secret and easy to use without the help of adults. In Germany and Scandinavia often Santa comes through the door.
- North Pole: America’s Father Christmas dwells there, it is a winter festival, Santa Claus needed somewhere to live
- Hat: Bishops mitre of St. Nicholas, the headgear of the Magi, and perhaps the Phrygian headgear of the French Revolution.
- Beard: St. Nicholas, the Magi are bearded, white because of age.
- Costume: Cloak from St. Nicholas, and perhaps the Magi. The fur probably added to fit the Northern legend.
- Sock: Hung by the chimney to dry and they make a good repository for presents.
- Candles (and now lights) symbolize or were part of: Paradise, end of the days getting shorter, warmth, summer, Jewish Hanukkah, festiveness, keeping the darkness at bay
- Holly: Christ’s crown of thorns and others
- Gnomes: Pagan (some celebrations)
- Straw: Stable and crib, readily available, pagan
- Christmas Crib: Jesus’ stable in Bethlehem. Legend says it was started by St. Franciscus of Assisi.
- Red, Green, and White colors: Green came from evergreen trees (e.g. balsam, fir, holly etc.), red from holly berries, red and white also from the Bishop’s mitre and cape worn in religious ceremonies by St. Nicholas, white from the snow seen on evergreen’s during the holiday season, white from St. Nicholas’s beard, and white from the light of the Star seen over the stable. Red may also have come from pagan ceremonies. [asked by Matt]
- Cookies and milk being left out for Santa Claus: the modern Christmas tree tradition came from western Germany, from a medieval custom, as a paradise tree — a tree decorated with apples, wafers and/or cookies. When the “paradise tree” merged with Christianity and became part of the Christmas celebration cookies and wafers were still part of the decorations. As time passed Santa would often snack on a decoration (to keep in shape!). Children (and perhaps parents) noticed that there were decorations that had been snacked on (although in old times the snacking was done by mice too) and so began leaving them out on plates by the fire — partially to keep them close to Santa’s entrance and partially to keep the mice away. Homes that did not use wafers or cookies thought it would be nice to leave out something for me to munch on too after hearing stories from other families about how much Santa enjoyed their cookies. Eventually fewer and fewer people decorated the tree with food but wanted to keep up the tradition of leaving something for Santa Claus. Eventually the origin was lost to common knowledge, but we have included it with the FAQ now. As for the milk, it was only natural that people would be considerate enough to leave milk with the cookies!
- Why is Santa ‘heavy’? Well, if you read the information about the cookies and milk above you’ll see why Santa used to be shown as thinner than he is now — not everyone used to leave out cookies for him!
There are many legends of St. Nicholas, but this is the most famous legend and it includes elements of today’s Santa:
A nobleman who lived with his three daughters had fallen on hard times. The daughters had no chance of marriage, since their father could not pay their dowries.
One night, St. Nicholas threw a sack of gold through a window of the nobleman’s shabby castle, which was enough for one daughter’s marriage. The next night, he tossed another sack of gold through the window for the second daughter.
But on the third night, the window was closed. So, St. Nicholas climbed onto the roof and dropped the sack down the chimney. The next morning, the daughters found the gold in the stockings they had hung to dry by the fireplace.
Hence leaving the stockings out for Santa Claus.
What other names is Santa Claus or Father Christmas known by?
- Weihnachtsmann in Germany for “Christmas man”
- Kris Kringle from the southern Germany Christkindle, meaning “Christ child.” This mutated in some areas of the world into a name for Santa Claus.
- Pere Noel in France
- Papa Noel in many Spanish speaking countries
- Sinter Claus (or Sinterklaas, Sinte Klaas) in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (now New York City)
- Other variations of his name range from Sant Nikolaas to Sante Klaas
- The Italian Befana is a similar figure as is Russia’s grandmotherly Babouschka.
- Denmark he’s called “Julemanden” (“Christmas Man”)
- Joulupukki (“Yule Buck”), evolved from the “Christmas Goat” used to frighten children in Finland. Korvatunturi (Mount Ear, near Polar Circle) is often portrayed as his home. The children see Santa and he asks if they have been good.
- Nicholas of Bari
- Nicholas of Myra
What is Mrs. Claus’ first name?
Mrs. Claus’ full name is Jessica Mary Claus. Her mother picked her middle name after the mother of Jesus.
Is St. Nicholas patron saint of anyone?
Yes! Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of Russia, of children, and of sailors. He also has been patron saint of Moscow, Greece, prisoners, bakers, pawnbrokers, shopkeepers and wolves.
What Books have been written about Santa Claus?
- In 1823, Clement C. Moore wrote “A Visit from St. Nicholas’, which showed Santa Claus driving a sleigh drawn by “eight tiny reindeer.”
- See our Favorite books page for books relating to Christmas.
- Thomas Nast was the first artist to draw Santa Claus as a fat, jolly, white-whiskered old man.
- Washington Irving also wrote about Santa Claus.
What Historical Books have been written?
- Ebon, Martin, St. Nicholas: Life and Legend(1975)
- Farmer, David, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 2nd ed. (1978; repr. 1987)
- Jones, Charles W., Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari and Manhattan: Biography of a Legend (1978; repr. 1988).
Who is Thomas Nast?
Thomas Nast was the first artist to draw Santa Claus as a fat, jolly, white-whiskered old man. He was born September 27, 1840 in Landau, Baden, Germany and died December 7, 1902 in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He was an American cartoonist after arriving in the United States at the age of six. He was a political cartoonist who happened to create one of the most popular images of Santa Claus. He is also noted for popularizing the Democratic party’s donkey.
Why do you give gifts at Christmas?
This custom has many roots. St. Nicholas was an anonymous benefactor. The Magi gave gifts to Jesus, and the Romans gave gifts during their holiday that coincided with this period. Various days are used:
December 6th – in memory of St. Nicholas
December 24th – Christmas Eve
December 25th – Christmas day, the birth of Jesus
January 1st – New Year’s Day
January 6th – Christmas day for some churches, the Magi/three wise men
What is Mistletoe?
Mistletoe is one of many species of semi-parasitic green plants and is used as part of the Christmas celebration. Symbolizes peace, kisses. Sacred symbol of ancient Druids and symbol of eternal life. One tradition has it that if you catch someone under the mistletoe you may kiss them (perhaps from Roman custom). See the families Loranthaceae and Viscaceae for more information.
What is the King of Misrule?
Also known as the Abbot of Misrule, this official managed the Christmas festivities held at the late medieval and early Tudor court and in the houses of great noblemen. The official served anywhere from 12 days to 3 months and arranged all the festivities and entertainment. Scotland’s counterpart was the “Abbot of Unreason”. This tradition as ended in 1553.
What is a Christmas Card?
A Christmas card is a greeting card often send by mail or electronic mail (email) to express Christmas goodwill and cheer. Almost all English-speaking countries following this tradition as do many other countries. John Callcott Horsley is credited with designing the first card (see below) in 1843. It was introduced to the United States in the 1870s
Tell me more about Mr. Horsley
John Callcott Horsley was born January 29, 1817 in London, England and died October 18, 1903 also in London. He was a painter who designed the first Christmas Card in 1843 for Sir Henry Cole who was his friend. The first edition of 1000 cards as copied and hand colored and shows a family party and with the legend “A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to You.”
What is garland?
Garland is a chain of leaves, flowers, or foliage often used to decorate homes at Christmas time. There have been many other uses throughout history.
What is a wreath?
A wreath is essentially a garland that is joined at both ends. There are several styles used at different occasions. Since the 19th century it is generally made of evergreens, holly, with pine cones and nuts. They are hung as decorations, for example on a door in Canada, the United States, and northern Europe. In Tudor England and during medieval times a wreath of rosemary and bay was served over a boar. The advent wreath has four candles and is a Christian symbol of the four Sundays preceding Christmas. A Christmas wreath is more decorative and is generally made of holly leaves and berries and is a custom of many countries including particularly those listed above.
What is a Christmas Tree?
A Christmas Tree is usually a balsam or Douglas fir, and is decorated with lights and ornaments as a part of the Christmas season. Evergreen trees and shrubbery (wreaths, garlands) is an ancient custom dating back to the Chinese, Hebrews, and Egyptians. Initially part of pagan Europe, tree decoration became part of Christian tradition initially as part of the New Year celebration in order to scare the devil away. Likewise, it was part of a Germany custom of placing a Yule tree at an entrance to the house as part of their mid-winter holiday.
The modern Christmas tree tradition came from western Germany, from a medieval custom, as a paradise tree — a tree decorated with apples, wafers (or cookies), and candles representing the Garden of Eden, the host, and Christ. By the 19th century it had become a deep-rooted German tradition. European countries such as Austria, Switerland, The Netherlands, and Poland imported the German tradition. Queen Victoria’s husband, German Prince Albert popularized the tradition in England after it had been introduced earlier in the 19th century. German and English settlers to North America brought the tradition there and missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries spread the tradition to China, Japan, and other parts of Asia.
What is Christmas?
The word itself comes from the Old English, “Cristes maesse” which means “Christ’s mass” on which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. It is now both a religious and secular holiday. Romans celebrated this festival in AD 336 which coincided with a pagan Roman festival coinciding with the Winter Solstice. It is often celebrated December 25, but a few churches celebrate it January 6th. It is traditionally a celebration of family and children.
English: Christmas, Yule, Noel
Italian: Il Natale
Spanish: La Natividad
Christmas — traditionally has been celebrated during a prolonged period from December 24 to January 6th.
What is Christmas Day?
Derived from the traditional birthday of Jesus. Near the shortest day of the year (the Winter Solstice) an important pagan and solar feasting period in Europe. Fixed by the church near the old Roman Saturnalia festival (December 17-21). The first mention of the birthday is from the year 354. Gradually most Christian churches adopted this day, except Armenians who celebrate 6th January which date for other Churches is the baptismal day of Jesus and the day of the three Magi).
What is a “Carol”?
A song, generally of religious joy. The earliest known Christmas songs date from the 4th century; “Jesus refulsit omnium by St. Hilary of Poitiers” is the oldest. Songs were created in the Catholic Church and many other places. Early songs were religious and in latin. Music by Handel and Mendelssohn was adapted and used as Christmas carols. The most famous of all, Silent Night (Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht) was written by the Austrian parish priest Joseph Mohr and composed by Franz Gruber, church organist, in 1818.
Why a Star?
The astronomical/astrological phenomenon that triggered the journey of the Magi to find and give presents to the Christ child, Jesus. Perhaps a supernova, a conjunction of planets, or a miracle which occurred around 7 BC, the most probably birth year of Christ. Often placed at the top of the Christmas tree.
What is a Magi?
From the old Persian language, a priest of Zoroaster (Zarathustra). The Bible states they came from the East and were from Persia (today, Iran). Balthasar, Melchior, Caspar.
What is Advent?
It is a period of preparation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Advent begins on the Sunday closest to November 30th – St. Andrew’s Day – and is the beginning of the church year. Popular traditions are Advent Candles and Advent Calendars (often colorful children’s calendars with a door for each day in December). Advent is from the Latin “adventus” meaning “coming,” as in the coming of Christ’s birthday.
Who is Charles Dickens?
Dickens is one of the greatest English novelists. He was born February 7, 1812 (Charles John Huffman Dickens) in Portsmouth, Hampshire. In 1843 he wrote A Christmas Carol, creating a Christmas myth.
Other stories: Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, The Pickwick Papers
What does Santa do when a house does not have a chimney or there is a fire burning in the fireplace?
Santa likes to keep a few things secret so he can always surprise the kids he is visiting — all he will say to this question is that he uses a little magic but he *always* finds a way!
Does Rudolph always lead the sleigh?
Rudolph is almost always the lead reindeer thanks to his wonderful bright nose!
How do the reindeer fly?
A long time ago Santa and his helpers discovered magical oats and corn– when the reindeer eat the oats and corn the deer become able to fly and leap high into the air.
What kind of computer does Santa Claus use?
Santa uses Apple Macintosh computers — this site is supported using three Power PC machines (PowerMac 8600/300, PowerMac 7500, PowerMac 7100, and a PowerMac 6100) and a Quadra 700, Centris 650 and IIci.
Why can’t I ever see Santa or his elves?
Santa and the elves are magical and move very quickly. Sometimes, if you are very good, you *might* catch a glimpse of an elf!
How do I become an elf?
The best way is to do well in school and be good. Then, who knows…
How does Santa’s sleigh make it around the world in one day?
Through a combination of lots of practice and hard work, judicious use of time zones, and a little magic, Santa and the reindeer always make it in time.
How does Santa know whether I have been naughty or nice?
Santa maintains his naughty and nice list (now computerized, by the way), with the help of all the elves who keep track of each person — you probably aren’t even aware they are around you, but elves have a special way of keeping an eye on you. Sometimes if you look quickly enough you *might* catch one peering in a window or around a corner, but you would have to be very fast and very good!
What kind of snack does Santa like left out for him?
Santa loves cookies, of course, but he is always happy to try anything you think he might like — pick your favorite kind of cookie or snack and Santa and the reindeer will be happy! The reindeer love carrots and lettuce best, of course!
How many reindeer are in the north pole?
Besides the reindeer that pull the sleigh, there are lots of other reindeer that live in the North Pole — too many for even Santa to count or keep track of these days!
What are the names of Santa’s reindeer?
The reindeer that pull the sleigh are: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder (or Donner, he likes both since some of the small reindeer have trouble saying ‘Donder’), Blitzen, and of course — Rudolph. There are many other reindeer who live at the North Pole but there is not room to list them all.
What do Santa and Mrs. Claus do during the spring and summer?
Santa and Mrs. Claus take a vacation after the holiday season. They like to see different parts of the world. Last summer they visited New Zealand, part of Europe, and the Florida Keys.
Why doesn’t Santa always bring me what I asked for?
Thanks to the elves and your gift lists, Santa usually knows what presents you would like to receive. However, sometimes Santa also knows that your parents, family, or guardians have other special things in mind. Also, Santa does not like to bring gifts that he knows your parents etc. would prefer you not to have — such as a horse, or a space shuttle, or other gifts that would not be appropriate.
Why does Santa Claus climb down the chimney?
Santa first began climbing down the chimney for Dutch children. Similarly, the switches he leaves for naughty children originated with the Dutch. His red suit trimmed with white fur originated from the bishop’s mitre and cape worn by the Dutch saint.
What are some songs written about Santa Claus, Jesus, and Christmas?
- `Messiah’ by George Frideric Handel
- Here Comes Santa Claus
- Irving Berlin’s White Christmas
- “Silent Night, Holy Night” — composed in Austria by Franz Gruber in the 19th century
- The First Noel
- Hark, the Herald Angels Sing
- Away in a Manger
- O Little Town of Bethlehem
What is a “White Christmas”?
A “white Christmas” refers to the snow that is one of the features associated with the holiday season in many areas.
Why don’t you come every day of the year?
Well, for a couple of reasons. First, we (Santa and the Reindeer) come on Christmas eve to celebrate Christmas — the birthday of Jesus. Second, it takes a whole year to get everything ready for just one very special night for all the good children around the world. Third, only having Christmas once each year makes it very special. [asked by Colleen from Mr. Anders’ first grade class at Blue Creek School in Latham, New York]
Do you have a red-nosed reindeer?
Oh yes, Rudolph has a red nose and is often the leader of the team. [asked by Billy from Mr. Anders’ first grade class at Blue Creek School in Latham, New York]
Is there a real Rudolph?
Yes, Rudolph is one of our favorite reindeer since he is so helpful when there is fog or other inclement weather on Christmas Eve. [asked by Nick from Mr. Anders’ first grade class at Blue Creek School in Latham, New York]
How many cookies do you eat?
Lots and lots. I’m not sure if I can count high enough, but I eat a lot of cookies even though Mrs. Claus says to cut back on the number. Last year I ate so many I felt a little sick because of the sheer number of them, so this year I may eat a little less at each home. [asked by Eric from Mr. Anders’ first grade class at Blue Creek School in Latham, New York]
How do you get a computer?
Snowy Elf researched which computers suited our needs the best and told Mrs. Claus. Mrs. Claus then got them for Santa as a Christmas present. [asked by Joey from Mr. Anders’ first grade class at Blue Creek School in Latham, New York]
How many kids do you deliver to?
We delivery to millions and millions of good children around the world who believe in Santa Claus — the number changes every year because there are always children being born. [asked by Gregory from Mr. Anders’ first grade class at Blue Creek School in Latham, New York]
Why is Rudolph’s nose so bright?
His nose is so bright because he was touched by Christmas magic which made his nose so red and shiny. [asked by Gregory from Mr. Anders’ first grade class at Blue Creek School in Latham, New York]
Has Santa ever missed a year?
No, Santa Claus has not missed a Christmas yet. At the North Pole we take many precautions so that nothing can go wrong on Christmas Eve. After so many years of practice we have plans for everything. There have been some close calls as you may see on television, but everyone here loves Christmas so much that we all work extra hard to make sure that Christmas is as fun as it is supposed to be.
Do you get the flu?
Occasionally some of us get the flu, but we almost always get flu shots to avoid getting sick. Even the flu wouldn’t stop us from our Christmas deliveries though. [Fletch, Sea Girt, NJ]
What kind of milk should I leave out?
Occasionally kids ask if Santa is lactose intolerant so they know what kind of milk to leave out, and the answer is that “no,” Santa likes all kinds of milk and has no intolerance, so any types are fine and greatly appreciated! The only type of milk Santa will probably not drink is buttermilk, although he will use it in cakes.
Mrs. Claus prefers me to drink cold fat-free (aka skim) milk, because of the health benefits; however I like to drink all the kinds of milk listed except buttermilk.
How many toys do you make in one day? 100? 40? 90? 50? (Asked by Robert in Mrs. Graves’ second grade class at Montessori Episcopal School at Lewisville, Texas.)
The only correct answer though, is that it depends. Some toys such as a set of wooden blocks takes much less time than a more complex toy such as a truck or car so the elves who make complex toys tend to make fewer per day than the elves who work on other toys. The real important point is that each toy is made and given with lots of love!
How old is Santa, and when is Santa’s birthday?
Well, lets just say that Santa stopped counting at 550 and leave it at that! There have been plenty of Christmas nights where I’ve done my part and plenty more to come!
Does Santa think there will be snow Christmas Eve? Does Santa have any kind of weather forecasting service he uses, or does he just hope for snow?
I think that there could easily be snow in many areas, but very far in advance it is very hard to predict what the weather is going to be like on Christmas Eve. 1996 was a great year to make deliveries with the full moon on Christmas Eve. It had been a very long time since I’d seen one of those on Christmas Eve and it was beautiful. As for weather services, the elves here tend to do a pretty good job as we get closer to the big day, but we do tend to check out the local weather forecasts before the big trip.
Does Santa really need snow to make his Christmas deliveries?
No, Santa does not need snow everywhere to make deliveries. As long as there is snow somewhere in the world (and there always is) the deliveries will go through! After all Santa delivers to Florida, California, parts of Europe, Asia, Central America, South America, Africa and other areas that have no snow. However, snow always makes it much more beautiful and I always love seeing the holiday lights and homes nestled in the snow.
Why does Santa Claus deliver presents on Christmas Eve instead of some other day?
The simple reason is that if we didn’t deliver on Christmas Eve then the presents wouldn’t be waiting for everyone on Christmas morning! Going back in time further, the Magi brought presents for the Christ child and people continued the tradition of giving gifts on Christmas Eve so that they would be there Christmas morning. [Grady]