Christmas - The Legend of Santa Claus -
Who is This Unusually Dressed Fellow!
by Bernadette Dimitrov
One of the greatest highlights of Christmas is Santa Claus whose legend
turned him into a magical kind-hearted, noble, and generous "good
fairy Godfather" today!
Santa was originally a Bishop who after his death became the legendary
Saint Nicholas. Here is something that you may be surprised to know. He
was Greek and Greek speaking! He is believed to have been born around 280
AD in Patara near Myra. Originally Saint Nicholas was the Christian Bishop
of Myra (today known as Turkey). Back in those days Myra was predominantly
populated with Greeks. The Turks didn't arrive until the 11th century AD.
This Bishop was a generous and kind-hearted man, devoted particularly to
children. In 340AD after his death in Myra it is said that sailors stole
his remains and took them to Bari, Italy where he remains today in the
beautiful Basilica of Saint Nicholas specially built to house him.
Medieval people believed relics of Saints had healing powers and every
church had a store of them. The sailors increased his popularity in Europe
with stories of his kindness and generosity which lead to increased
devotion with stories of miracles.
St Nicholas became so popular, loved and adored by the people that he was
honored as the patron Saint of just about everything! He was indeed the
national Saint of Greece and Russia where churches were named in the
thousands after him. Known by his red cape, flowing white beard and
Bishop's miter he also become the patron Saint:
- in Greece of sailors
- in France of lawyers
- in Belgium of children and travelers
In other lands he was patron of merchants, judges, paupers and just about
everything else you can think of!
An official church holiday was created in St Nicholas' honor some time
around the 12th century. This was a time when thousands of churches across
Europe were dedicated to him. A Feast Day in his honor on the 6th of
December become the official day of his celebration and is the day of the
anniversary of his death. In the early days of celebrations it was
considered lucky to make large purchases or to get married on his Feast
Day! Traditionally the day was honored each year with celebrations and
marked by gift giving and charity.
How did his name transform from Saint Nicholas to Santa Claus? Some say it
started from the Dutch naming of him. After the Reformation, European
followers of Saint Nicholas dwindled but the legend was kept alive in
Holland. Dutch children have a magical tradition where they excitedly
leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace and "Sinterklaas"
would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes. The Dutch
colonists brought this fun tradition with them to America in the 17th
century where the spelling of his name "Sint Nikolaas" was
eventually and affectionately transformed to "Sinterklaas".
Hence the Anglican name "Santa Claus" emerged which is now the
most popular name he is known by today! However others suggest the
Anglican name comes from the Germans. As "Santa" is said to have
come from the word "Saint" and "Claus" is an
abbreviation for the name Nicholas in Germany.
What did he look like? Originally he appeared in Bishop's robes holding a
Bishop's miter. When first arrived in America Santa didn't look like the
figure we know today. He was a thin, sad faced old man wearing a
fur-trimmed knee-length coat. Santa's back in the old days were usually
dressed in blue, green or black with no red and white we see today in
sight! It was by the mid 1850's that the red and white fat jolly version
we know today gained popularity.
The American image of Santa Claus developed from the Dutch austere
Sinterklaas; a bishop in a red bishop's costume who rode a white horse.
Washington Irving in his comic "History of New York" is said to
be the first to describe him as plump and jolly. The evolution of the
image of Santa Claus continued in 1823 with the publication of the famous
poem by Clement C Moore "A Visit From Saint Nicholas".
In England by the mid 19th century Santa was a fat, red faced, jovial
character who wore glasses and a crown of holly on his head. He appeared
almost always tipsy accompanied by a steaming bowl of punch with either a
glass of punch or ale in his hand. We know that around the world Santa has
been depicted in many shapes and forms including the most popular being
tall and thin or short and fat.
How did he become so famous? A transformation onto paper leads the way! Dr
Clement C Moore (an Episcopal Minister) in 1822 described Santa Claus as a
benevolent plump jolly man in a red suit. He originally wrote the famous
poem "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" for his 3 daughters after an
inspirational moonlight sleigh ride home from the market after buying a
Christmas turkey. It was not published for another 20 years. Then fame
didn't take long to spread to children and adults around the world. It was
much loved for its sense of fun and magic. This poem helped to popularize
the idea of Santa Claus visiting on Christmas Eve.
About the Author
Mrs Claus (aka
Christmas author Bernadette Dimitrov) and her world-wide inspirational
guests! It's a fun show with something for both young and old with prizes
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