The holiday season is a time of faith, miracles, goodwill, and tradition. While some holiday traditions are self-explanatory, others have a deeply rich history rooted in legend. Sit back, grab a hot cocoa, and enjoy learning about the origins of the first of three favorite famous Christmas traditions, Santa Claus.
Today, Santa Claus is pictured as a jolly man in a red and white suit and hat who flies in a reindeer-pulled sleigh to deliver presents on Christmas eve. The history of good old Saint Nicholas, however, goes all the way back to the 3rd century. The real Saint Nick was born in Turkey sometime around 280 A.D. and was renowned for his generosity. Throughout his life, he gave away everything he earned and eventually became known as the patron saint of children for taking care of so many poor and sick children over the years. Even when the Protestant movement discouraged the veneration of saints during the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, Saint Nick remained a popular figure in European culture.
It is generally accepted by holiday scholars that the legend of Saint Nick was brought to America by Dutch immigrants in the 1770s. The Dutch Sint Nikolaas eventually became Sinter Klaas, and then again evolved into Santa Claus. This early Sinter Klaas was pictured in a variety of ways, dressed in everything from traditional colorful Dutch garb to suits made entirely of thick furs.
When American stores began advertising Christmas shopping in the early to mid-1800s, advertisers began to put images of the jolly man in red in their catalogs to create excitement surrounding the Christmas season. In the 1840s, some stores began featuring live Santas, and by the 1890s, the Salvation Army was deploying their platoon of Santas onto the streets of metropolitan cities where they rang bells and collected donations for families who were down on their luck.
Department stores have continued advertising visits with their Santas up through recent years. Most famously, the Macy’s rendition of Santa appeared in the beloved Christmas classic “Miracle on 34th Street” and has appeared at the end of nearly every Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade since its conception in 1924.
Depictions of Santa can be seen all around the world, though each region places its own cultural spin on the big man in the red suit. In Sweden and Germany, Kris Kringle or Christkind, deliver presents to children who are well-behaved. In Scandinavia, Jultomten the elf delivers presents to good children in a goat-drawn sleigh. In France, Père Noël does the same.
Both Russia and Italy are even home to stories of old women who bring presents to children during the Christmas festivities. In Russia, Babouschka is said to have given the wise men the wrong directions to Bethlehem on purpose. She now brings presents to good Russian children in hopes that her deeds will be forgiven. Italy’s La Befana is an elderly witch who also delivers toys by flying her broomstick down their chimneys where they have left stockings hanging.
Whether dressed in red or blue or even fur, we hope Santa has you on his nice list! From all of us at Empower Brokerage, Happy Holidays!
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