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 sleight 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!
What is a legend of St. Nicholas?
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.
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 sleight drawn by "eight tiny reindeer."
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, 2d ed. (1978; repr. 1987)
Jones, Charles W., Saint Nicholas of Myra, Bari and Manhattan: Biography of a Legend (1978; repr. 1988).
Yes, Virginia There is a Santa Claus.