A long time ago, a bishop named Nicholas lived in what is now the country of Turkey. No one knows much about him. But there are stories that he often helped children who were in need.
Many years, after his death, Nicholas was made a saint. In time, he became the patron saint of children. Today, the date of his death, December 6, is an important holiday in some countries in Europe. On the night before, children put out their shoes or hang up stockings. Early next morning, they rush to see what gifts Saint Nicholas gave them.
Saint Nicholas visits towns and cities, leads parades, talks to children, and often hands out small gifts. He is dressed as a bishop, of course, wearing a red or white robe and a tall, pointed hat.
Saint Nicholas always has a helper. In the Netherlands, this helper is called Black Peter. In Germany, he's Knecht Ruprecht. In parts of France, he's Père Fouettard. And in Luxembourg, he's known as Hoesecker.
Of course, all the children love Saint Nicholas. But they're afraid of his helper. For it is the helper who keeps track of who was good and who was naughty. Naughty children may get only switches, with which their parents can spank them! They may even be carried away in the helper's bag until they learn to be good!
Dutch settlers in America still continue to celebrate this feast day. Their name for Saint Nicholas is Sinterklaas. And in English, this became Santa Claus.
Saint Nick in other countries:
United States and Canada ~ Presents are brought by Santa Claus. He drives through the sky in a sleigh drawn by eight reindeer. He slips down the chimney, leaves gifts and is on his way again. Santa Claus wears red clothes trimmed with white fur, and has a snow-white beard and mustache.
England ~ The gift bringer is called Father Christmas. He looks much like Santa Claus, but has a longer coat and a longer beard.
France ~ Santa is known as Père Noël.
Brazil ~ Santa Claus is called Papa Noël.
Germany ~ Children get presents from Christkindl, the Christ child.
Costa Rica, Colombia, and parts of Mexico, ~ the gift bringer is el Niño Jesus, "the Infant Jesus."
Sweden ~ Gifts and goodies are brought by an elf called tomte. He's a Christmas gnome who has a sleigh that is pulled by goats.
The History of Santa Claus in America-
A story of its own. In America the History of Santa goes back four centuries. The evolution of the character as we know him today is a remarkable one with world-wide implications.
Santa Claus History in the USA begins 4 centuries ago
1600's: The Puritans made it illegal to mention St. Nicolas' name. People were not allowed to exchange gifts, light a candle, or sing Christmas carols.
17th century: Dutch immigrants brought with them the legend of Sinter Klaas.
1773: Santa first appeared in the media as St. A Claus.
1804: The New York Historical Society was founded with St. Nicolas as its patron saint. Its members engaged in the Dutch practice of gift-giving at Christmas.
1809: Washington Irving, writing under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, included Saint Nicolas in his book "A History of New York." Nicolas is described as riding into town on a horse.
1812: Irving, revised his book to include Nicolas riding over the trees in a wagon.
1821: William Gilley printed a poem about "Santeclaus" who was dressed in fur and drove a sleigh drawn by a single reindeer.
1822: Dentist Clement Clarke Moore is believed by many to have written a poem "An Account of a Visit from Saint Nicolas," which became better known as "The Night before Christmas." Santa is portrayed as an elf with a miniature sleigh equipped with eight reindeer which are named in the poem as Blitzem, Comet, Cupid, Dancer, Dasher, Donder, Prancer, and Vixen. Others attribute the poem to a contemporary, Henry Livingston, Jr. Two have since been renamed Donner and Blitzen.
1841: J.W. Parkinson, a Philadelphia merchant, hired a man to dress up in a "Criscringle" outfit and climb the chimney of his store.
1863: Illustrator Thomas Nast created images of Santa for the Christmas editions of Harper's Magazine. These continued through the 1890's.
1860s: President Abraham Lincoln asked Nast to create a drawing of Santa with some Union soldiers. This image of Santa supporting the enemy had a demoralizing influence on the Confederate army -- an early example of psychological warfare.
1897: Francis P Church, Editor of the New York Sun, wrote an editorial in response to a letter from an eight year-old girl, Virginia O'Hanlon. She had written the paper asking whether there really was a Santa Claus. It has become known as the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" letter.
1920's: The image of Santa had been standardized to portray a bearded, over-weight, jolly man dressed in a red suit with white trim.
1931: Haddon Sundblom, illustrator for The Coca-Cola ™ company drew a series of Santa images in their Christmas advertisements until 1964. The company holds the trademark for the Coca-Cola Santa design. Christmas ads including Santa continue to the present day.
1939 Copywriter Robert L. May of the Montgomery Ward Company created a poem about Rudolph, the ninth reindeer. May had been "often taunted as a child for being shy, small and slight." He created an ostracized reindeer with a shiny red nose who became a hero one foggy Christmas eve. Santa was part-way through deliveries when the visibility started to degenerate. Santa added Rudolph to his team of reindeer to help illuminate the path. A copy of the poem was given free to Montgomery Ward customers. 6
1949: Johnny Marks wrote the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Rudolph was relocated to the North Pole where he was initially rejected by the other reindeer who wouldn't let him play in their reindeer games because of his strange looking nose. The song was recorded by Gene Autry and became his all-time best seller. Next to "White Christmas" it is the most popular song of all time.