Its nearly midnight and with a jingle of bells a sled comes streaking from the north, pulled of course by Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer. Sitting in the sled is a jolly round red robed figure with flowing white beard and a bag slung over his shoulder that lands on the rooftop with a merry ho-ho-ho.

Hey! Its Christmas and its Santa Claus. If you’ve been nice, he slides down the chimney and loads up little stockings hung there with lots of toys and goodies. If you’ve been naughty, then you get fewer toys!

How Did Santa Claus Originate? [Illustration by Shiju George]
How Did Santa Claus Originate? [Illustration by Shiju George]

Well, this is what everybody believes and all kids look forward to Christmas.

Santa Claus was originally Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was a bishop who lived in the 4th century in the city of Myra in Asia Minor (now Turkey). At that time Romans ruled Asia Minor and they persecuted all Christians. The Roman emperor Diocletian imprisoned Nicholas.

Legend has it that Nicholas appeared in a dream to emperor Constantine the Great to plead for three people who were unjustly condemned to die. The next day the emperor enquired about the case and found that the people had been falsely accused. The emperor immediately set Nicholas free.

Detail of an ancient byzantine fresco of the council of Nicaea. From the church of St Nicholas, Demre, Southern Turkey
Detail of an ancient byzantine fresco of the council of Nicaea. From the church of St Nicholas, Demre, Southern Turkey

Nicholas was renowned for his pious and gentle nature and his extreme love for children and the poor. In 1087, his remains were taken to the Church of San Nicola at Bari, Italy, and buried there. The Pope made him saint and his Latin name became Sanctus Nicolaus.

From the 11th to the 16th centuries, people throughout Europe, particularly in Norway, Greece and Russia, worshipped St. Nicholas. Many churches were also named after him. He became the patron saint of sailors and children as it was said that he helped ships brave the storms and saved many lives.

Some ships even had his statue or at least carried his an image to ward off danger. In Norway, December 6 came to be associated as St. Nicholas’ Day. It was said that a bearded saint, whom they called Sinterklaas, would come riding a white horse to give presents to good children and carried a stick to beat naughty children.

In the 17th century when the Dutch, along with the English, moved to America to settle there, they landed at New York, which at that time they called New Amsterdam. Since the sailors revered St. Nicholas, they decided to dedicate a day for him.

In the next two centuries, the image of the Saint changed with passing generations. In 1823, Clement Clark Moore, son of a bishop, composed a poem “Twas the night before Christmas…" with the picture of the saint as a jolly old elf riding a sled pulled by flying reindeer. He even named the reindeer by the names we know today. The poem and the image became widely popular.

In 1860, Thomas Nast, the caricaturist who created the donkey and elephant images to depict the two political parties in the US, drew a caricature of Santa for Harper’s Illustrated Weekly. Nast added some details to the Santa legend, including a workshop for toys at the North Pole. People soon believed that Santa lived in the North Pole.

In 1925, it was discovered that there are no reindeer at the North Pole but they live in Lapland, Finland. In 1927, Markus Rautio who compered the popular ‘Children’s hour’ on Finnish radio revealed the secret of Santa’s address. He declared that Father X’mas lives on Lapland’s Korvatunturi (meaning ‘mount ear’) mountain in Savukoski county, Lapland, Finland.

Santa Claus on his sleigh in the nordic countryside
Santa Claus on his sleigh in the nordic countryside

In 1931, Swedish artist Haddon H. Sundblom was asked by the American soft drink company Coca Cola to do a promotional campaign for them for Christmas.

Coca-Cola was a client of Sundblom’s advertising agency from 1924 until his death in 1976. Sundblom painted Santa Claus as a human, a chubby white-bearded fellow dressed in a red coat (Coca Cola’s house colours) trimmed with white fur, red pants, high boots (for walking in the snow) and a leather belt around his middle.

This life-like endearing illustration promoted by Coca Cola revolutionised forever the way America and the rest of the world viewed this merry ho-ho-ho-ing figure.

From Saint Nicholas to Sinterklaas in Dutch to Santa Claus in America, to Father X’mas in Britain and Père Noël in France, this gift giver is known and looked forward to by children the world over.

And to all those who really want to know whether Santa has an address and whether letters written by children reach him, the answer is Yes! There really is a Father X’mas (Santa Claus) address and post is delivered to him. The official post office is in the town of Napapiiri, near Rovaniemi, near the Korvatunturi mountain in Finland. However, the mountain itself is out of bounds to people.

832 words | 8 minutes
Readability: Grade 7 (12-13 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: 5ws and h
Tags: #christmas, #santa claus, #america, #church, #emperor, #reindeer

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