by Dominik Gnirs
Who, who, who ... is that jolly old man that brings us presents and does so many magical things? What is the real story and legends, old and new? Let’s take a dive into Santa Claus, aka Saint Nicholas.
Nicholas of Myra was a real historic person and a church bishop! He lived from around 270–343 AD in Asia Minor, which today is in Turkey. Very little is known about his life, and with many early legends, it is hard to tell facts from fiction. An early account about him says he rescued three girls from prostitution by dropping gold from his inheritance through the window for the father to pay off the dowry. Certainly, he was a bishop, was probably persecuted under Diocletian, and released under Constantin. He likely attended the council of Nicea, from which we get the creed.
Due to the many stories around St. Nicholas, he became the patron saint to many: Sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, prostitutes, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and unmarried people. Many of these are founded by stories like St. Nicholas saving three sailors by calming a storm. Another legend has him loading wheat from a ship during a famine, and the sailors go on with the wheat supernaturally replenished.
The red and white dress for St. Nicholas seems like a marketing trick by Coca-Cola, and this story lives on as a modern legend. Yet, depictions of Santa Claus in red and white date back to the 1870s, before Coca-Cola existed.
Merging legends around St. Nicholas, the British legend of Father Christmas, and the Dutch/Belgian Sinterklaas turned the legendary saint into a mystical figure and moved the celebration day from the Saint’s Day on December 6 to December 25. Putting out our shoes comes from Sinterklaas, where children would also leave hay and a carrot out for Santa’s reindeer. Much of the American folklore about Santa Claus originated from the publication “The Night Before Christmas” from 1823.
Learn more in this online biography of narration of the legends around Santa Claus: