The Man Behind the Story of Santa Claus:
The legend of Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. He was born to a Greek family sometime around 280 A.D. in the city of Patara (Lycia et Pamphylia), a port on the Mediterranean Sea. He lived in a place called Myra, Lycia (part of modern-day Demre, Turkey). He was a very rich man and had a lot of money. He was also a very kind man and was famous for his generous gifts to the poor. One of the best known St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian from being sold into slavery by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married. Another story tells of him helping few sailors who were caught in a dreadful storm off the coast of Turkey. He developed such a good reputation in his region that he was chosen as Bishop of Myra. St. Nicholas was exiled from Myra and was later cast into prison during the persecution by Emperor Diocletian. He was later released after the accession of Emperor Constantine. He died on 6th December in either 345 A.D. or 352 A.D. Because of his kindness Nicholas was made a Saint. His feast day (an annual religious celebration, a day dedicated to a particular saint) is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, i.e. on 6th of December. St. Nicholas’s popularity spread and he became the patron saint of children and sailors. Even today, on every 6th December, the sailors of Bari still carry his statue from the Cathedral out to sea, praying for their safe voyages throughout the year.
How St. Nicholas became the traditional model of Santa Claus:
After the Protestant reformation, by the 16th Century, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas became unpopular in northern Europe. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. The name Santa Claus evolved from Saint Nicholas’ Dutch nickname, ‘Sinter Klaas’ which is a shortened form of ‘Sint Nikolaas’. In England, he became known as 'Father Christmas' or 'Old Man Christmas', an old character from stories and plays during the middle ages in the United Kingdom. Towards the end of the 18th century, St. Nicholas made his first inroads into the American culture. In 1823 the famous poem 'T'was the Night before Christmas', was published by Dr Clement Clarke Moore. This poem describes St. Nicholas with a ‘chubby-plump’ appearance and with eight reindeer. On January 1st 1881, cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the most famous image of Santa Claus. His cartoon, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly, depicted Santa as a cheerful man with a big red belly, an arm full of toys and smoking a pipe. It was Nast who gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves, etc. This helped popularize the now-familiar image of a Santa Claus. The image of Santa Claus helps us to remember St. Nicholas, who devoted his life to serve the God and inspired others to do the same.