How St. Nicholas Became Santa Claus
In the 16th Century in northern Europe, after the reformation, the stories and traditions about St. Nicholas became unpopular.
But someone had to deliver presents to children at Christmas, so in the UK, particularly in England, he became ‘Father Christmas’ or ‘Old Man Christmas’, an old character from stories plays during the middle ages in the UK and parts of northern Europe. In France, he was then known as ‘Père Nöel’.
In some countries including parts of Austria and Germany, present giver became the ‘Christkind’ a golden-haired baby, with wings, who symbolizes the new born baby Jesus.
In the early USA his name was ‘Kris Kringle’ (from the Christkind). Later, Dutch settlers in the USA took the old stories of St. Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle and St Nicholas became ‘Sinterklaas’ or as we now say ‘Santa Claus’!
Many countries, especially ones in Europe, celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day on 6th December. In Holland and some other European Countries, children leave clogs or shoes out on the 5th December (St. Nicholas Eve) to be filled with presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas’s horse, they will be left some sweets.
St. Nicholas became popular again in the Victorian era when writers, poets and artists rediscovered the old stories.
In 1823 the famous poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ or ‘T’was the Night before Christmas’, was published. Dr Clement Clarke Moore later claimed that he had written it for his children. (Some scholars now believe that it was actually written by Henry Livingston, Jr., who was a distant relative of Dr Moore’s wife.) The poem describes St. Nicholas with eight reindeer and gives them their names. They became really well known in the song ‘Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer’, written in 1949. Do you know all eight names? Click on Rudolph’s nose to find out!