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Saint Nicholas . Sint Nickolaas . Sinter Klaas . Santa Claus

St. Nicholas was born around 280 A.D. in what is now modern Turkey.  During the course of his lifetime he became a monk &

well know bishop.  He was a Godly, kindhearted man who left the comforts of home to travel the countryside to help the sick & poor.

He gave away all of his earthly inheritance.  The people respected & admired St. Nicholas for his selflessness in helping those in need,

so they created many legends to retell the stories of his kindness to others.  He became know as the patron saint of children & sailors,

& when he died the people celebrated the unselfish life that he had led.

To honor St. Nicholas & to keep his memory alive for future generations they declared an annual feast day to be held

each year on December 6 which marked the anniversary of his death. 

St. Nicholas became the most celebrated saint of Europe, especially among Dutch communities.

 

When the Dutch families came to America many of them settled in New York which introduced their rich heritage to the

settlers who had come before them.  Their traditional celebrations of the feast day of St. Nicholas caught the attention of many. 

The Dutch called St. Nicholas, Sint Nikolaas, which later was shortened to Sinter Klass, and because The Sinter Klass stories

of their past generations were an important part of celebrations, they retold these entertaining stories year after year to the

delight of all that heard them.

 

Through the years the stories of Sinter Klass began to grow, & Sinter Klass himself began taking on new looks.  Of the many

different images he was given, one described him as a rascal that wore a blue three-cornered hat, a red waistcoat & yellow

stockings.  The images of stockings hung from a fireplace filled with toys that we still use today, came from this era & originated

from background images of wood engravings that were given to members of the New York Historical Society in 1804 by

John Pintard.

 

The rest of America came to know & love the stories of Sinter Klaas partly due to Washing Irving naming St. Nicholas the

patron saint of New York in his book, "The History of New York" written in 1809.  In time the English who lived in New York

adapted Sinter Klaas from the Dutch & renamed him Santa Claus.  They included Santa Claus along with their other

English customs of the Yule log, caroling, mistletoe & gift giving.

 

The stories began advertising Christmas shopping in 1820 are more & more people adapted the tradition of gift giving at Christmas.

Then in 1822 Clemente Clarke Moore wrote & published the Christmas poem, "An account of a Visit from St. Nicholas",

depicting Santa as a jolly old elf that flew from house to house in his miniature sleigh with eight flying reindeer who delivered

presents to all the good boys & girls on Christmas Eve.  By 1840 the images of this popular new Santa Claus started

popping up in newspaper advertisements, and a shop in Philadelphia placed the fist life-sized model of Santa in front of

their shop which drew thousands of children & parents.  Then other stores copied the Philadelphia store's use of a

 live Santa in hope of drawing more customer to their shops.  By  1846 the first Christmas cards were made for purchase.

 

By 1850 it became fashionable to adopt the foreign custom of bringing an evergreen tree indoors & decorating it with

lighted candles, much like the one first introduced by Martin Luther in the 16th century when he brought one indoors &

put candles on it to illustrate to his children how the stars twinkled through the trees in the woods at night.

The evergreen tree represented the Holy Trinity according to the legend of a monk who had used the shape of  fir tree to

explain the Holy Trinity to the people in Germany during the 7th century.  It was revered as God's tree by the converted people. 

Then in 1881 Santa inherited another new look to go along with the sleigh & eight tiny reindeer that Clemente Moore's story

had given to him.  He was now given a red suit trimmed in white fur with a matching cap, & a wife, Mrs. Claus, plus some elves & a

workshop located at the North Pole.  A political cartoonist named Thomas Nast is who gave him these thing when he published a

cartoon interpretation of Clements Moore's poem.

 

In the early 1890's the Salvation army thought up another great use for Santa by dressing up unemployed men in red & white Santa

suits & sending them out into the streets to solicit donations to pay for Christmas meals for needy families.  It worked very well & we

are still blessed by the sounds of the the bell ringers at Christmas time even though they no longer dress up.  By the early 1900's

celebrating the Christmas holiday had become widespread in America, & gift giving became an important part of the Christmas

tradition, but centered mainly around children at the time. 

 

The legends of St. Nicholas' life of giving traveled far & wide.  They became the inspiration behind the many other Christmas time

bearers of gifts that followed, such as Kris Kringle or Christkind of Switzerland & Germany, Father Christmas of England, La Befana

of Italy, Jultomen of Scandinavia, Pere Noel of France & Babouschka of Russia.

 

Nicholas was still a young boy when he discovered the love of Jesus & the gift of giving that changed the world. 

Today, more the 16 centuries later, the entire world celebrates the kindness & generosity of the man we call

Santa Claus

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