Knowing More the Santa Claus History

Jakarta – Santa Claus has become linked with Christmas due to various traditions and stories that have evolved over time. Santa Claus or otherwise known as Saint Nicholas or Kris Kringle has a long history steeped in Christmas traditions.

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He is thought of mainly as the jolly man in red who brings toys to good girls and boys on Christmas Eve, but his story stretches all the way back to the 3rd century, when Saint Nicholas walked the earth and became the patron saint of children.

The legend of St. Nicholas: the real Santa Claus

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It all starts with St Nicholas, a man who lived in the fourth century. No credible historical sources can prove the facts of his life, but according to tradition, St Nicholas of Myra, later known as St Nicholas of Bari, lived during the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great.

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According to tradition, he was born in Patara, a city in ancient Lycia in Asia Minor, part of what is now Turkiye.

Nicholas, who would later become the bishop of Myra, was known for his profound Christian faith and extraordinary compassion.

Although historical record does not provide detailed accounts of his life, tradition tells us he travelled to Palestine and Egypt in his youth, further cultivating his deep spiritual conviction.

Nicholas was orphaned when he was young and was left with a substantial inheritance. He chose to use this wealth to help the needy.

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His most famous act of generosity was providing dowries for three impoverished sisters.

His acts of generosity meant when he was recognised as a saint, he was acclaimed the patron and protector of children.

Across Europe, the legacy of St Nicholas’s charity and kindness sparked a variety of traditions, with December 6 becoming his feast day.

In France, particularly in regions such as Alsace and Lorraine, children would leave their shoes out for St Nicholas, hoping to find them filled with chocolates and gifts the next morning.

This tradition was accompanied by parades in which a donkey would pass through town streets, laden with baskets of biscuits and sweets for the children.

In Central Europe, particularly in Alpine regions, St Nicholas Day tradition merged gradually with unique local customs when the non-Christian population adopted Christianity as their religion.

Then, St Nicholas not only rewarded well-behaved children with gifts but was also accompanied by Krampus, a fearsome figure who would “punish” those who had misbehaved.

This tradition underscored the contrasting themes of reward and retribution, integral to the local folklore.

In some regions of Poland, the earlier traditions centred on a figure called Gwiazdor.

This “Star Man” dressed in sheepskin and a fur cap, with his face hidden under a mask or smeared with soot, carried a bag of gifts and a rod for naughty children.

The transformation into Santa Claus

The metamorphosis of St Nicholas into Santa Claus was a gradual process influenced by cultural and religious shiftsIn Germany and the Netherlands in the course of the 17th century, the practice of gift-giving in the name of St Nicholas began to take root.

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The Dutch called him “Sinterklaas”, a term that would eventually evolve into the English colloquial “Santa Claus”.

This transformation first occurred in Germany and later spread to other European countries.

The tradition of St Nicholas was brought to North America in the 17th century.

By the 19th century, various iterations of St Nicholas were emerging in English-speaking communities across the world.

One of the first literary mentions of this figure in the American context was in Washington Irving’s 1809 book, Knickerbocker’s History of New York, which portrayed Nicholas flying in a wagon, delivering presents to children.

The red Santa suit and all related apparel, so familiar to us today, seem to be the invention of modern-day marketing in the English-speaking world.

Across Europe, St Nicholas’s outfit draws more on the traditional image of the saint, with clothes more closely resembling a bishop’s religious attire, complete with a mitre, the tall headdress.

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Although historical record does not provide detailed accounts of his life, tradition tells us he travelled to Palestine and Egypt in his youth, further cultivating his deep spiritual conviction.

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