Santa is old, like from 280 A.D. old. That means he will be 1,735 years old this year. His real name was Saint Nicholas and he’s originally from Myra (modern day Turkey) before he moved to the North Pole some centuries later. During his time in Myra, St. Nicholas is said to have given all of his wealth away to travel the country and help the poor and sick. He was so devoted to his cause of helping the less fortunate that word spread of his great deeds and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. St. Nicholas was celebrated for many centuries on the day of his death, Dec. 6. The day was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. This may be around the time he moved to the North Pole.
Towards the end of the 18th century, the Dutch in New York were partly responsible for his popularity in America. In 1773 and 1774, a New York newspaper reported that groups of Dutch families had gathered to honor the anniversary of his death, according to history.com. The name Santa Claus evolved from the Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, a shortened form of Saint Nikolass (Dutch for Saint Nicholas).
John Pintard, in 1804, distributed woodcuts of the saint at an annual meeting of the New York Historical Society. These woodcuts showed images of the now popular stockings hung over the fire place and filled with goodies and fruit. Washington Irving, in 1809, wrote a book titled The History of New York and referred to St. Nicholas as the patron saint of the state.
The holiday’s rejuvenation in the early 19th century is when giving gifts, mainly to children, became an important part of the holiday tradition. Stores began to advertise Christmas shopping in 1820, and by the 1840s, newspapers were creating separate sections for holiday advertisements, which featured images of the newly-popular Santa Claus, according to www.history.com.
In 1841, a Philadelphia shop featured a life-size Santa Claus model that attracted thousands of children. Other stores soon followed in step featuring their own “live” Santa Claus.
The Salvation Army, in the early 1890s, began dressing up unemployed men in Santa suits and sent them into the streets of New York to collect donations to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. The bell ringing Santas have been a part of the holiday tradition ever since.
It wasn’t until an Episcopal minister, Clement Clarke Moore, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters in 1822. The poem was titled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” or “T’was the Night before Christmas” and is largely responsible for the modern image of Santa.
The “right jolly old elf” with a portly figure and ability to enter a home through the chimney comes from Moore’s poem, which some imagery may be borrowed from other sources. In his poem, Santa flew from house to house on Christmas Eve in “a miniature sleigh” led by eight flying reindeer and leaving presents for deserving children, history.com says.
In 1881, Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, created the first likeness that matches our modern image of the jolly man in red, which he drew his ideas from Moore’s poem. Nast gave Santa his bright red suit with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves, and Mrs. Claus.
From the staff at the Empire-Tribune, we hope you have a joyous Christmas!