Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, is a very well-known figure associated with Christmas, who is believed to come down the chimney and deliver presents to children all around the world in just one night. But where does this idea originate from?
Story of St. Nicholas
legendary Santa Claus is based on Saint Nicholas, a Catholic saint who lived in
Asia Minor (now modern-day Turkey) during the early 4th century. His
parents were devout Christians and had been childless for many years, but they
would pray continually, and eventually they had Nicholas in their old age. When
he was 9 years old, both his parents died during an epidemic, so his uncle, the
bishop of Myra, took care of him. One day, the bishop saw a vision of Nicholas
distributing gifts to the people. He publicly announced this, telling the
people that his nephew would be a blessing for the city as well as the whole world.
Nicholas was later ordained a priest, and when his uncle died, he became the
Bishop of Myra.
was a pious man who followed the teachings of Jesus, distributing his wealth to
the poor. “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the
poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” (Matthew 19:21) He didn’t want
people to be embarrassed or seen as a charity case, so in order to preserve their
dignity, he would help them secretly.
night, he came across a house that still had its lights on, and when he came
closer, he saw a father and his 3 daughters. The father was crying, and the
eldest daughter was telling him not to search for a husband for her because
they didn’t have enough money. In some areas of the world, in those days and
even today, there is a dowry system in which the bride’s family must pay the groom’s
family. So, the eldest daughter was telling her father to sell her and use the
money to marry off her younger sisters. But the father couldn’t bear the thought
of this; he wept bitterly and knelt down, crying out to God for help. Nicholas
heard this, so he came back the next night with some gold coins and put them through
the window. When the family woke up and saw this, they thanked God, and used
the money to get the eldest daughter married. After a few days, more gold coins
came in, this time through the chimney because the windows were locked. The
coins fell into the stockings that had been left to dry in front of the
fireplace. The family was shocked; they knew someone was helping them, but they
attributed it to God and thanked Him. And so, the 2nd daughter was
able to get married. The father wanted to know who was behind it, so every
night he would hide outside and wait. When he saw Nicholas coming with his box
of coins and trying to put them through the window, he caught hold of him, then
knelt down and thanked him. Nicholas asked him not to tell anyone and to make
sure his 3rd daughter got married.
news of Nicholas spread secretly throughout the city, with each person telling
the person they told to not tell anyone else. And slowly, gifts started
appearing in many houses in the city of Myra, and everyone knew it was Nicholas.
Upon seeing this generosity, other rich people became inspired and started to
give, and people started putting their shoes outside and hanging their
stockings above the fireplace. More and more people started to give, and more
and more people woke up to gifts in their shoes and stockings. Although lots of
people were helping, everyone thought it was Nicholas and started to believe
that he had a magical power that let him be in different places at the same
are many miracles attributed to St. Nicholas, and one of them goes like this. There
was a butcher who murdered 3 boys and pickled them, because he had plans to
sell them as pickled pork during the famine. St Nicholas sensed this; he prayed
over the barrel they were in and the 3 boys were resurrected. There are many
other stories of St. Nicholas rescuing children, and this is why he’s known as
the patron saint of children. He’s also the patron saint of sailors and many
other groups of people.
Christianity started spreading in Europe, the story of St. Nicholas also
spread. On the night before December 6th, the feast day of St.
Nicholas, children would put their shoes outside before they went to bed, and
parents would fill them with gifts and tell their children it was St. Nicholas.
The children believed this and had a lot of affection for St. Nicholas.
12th century, French nuns inspired by St. Nicholas’ tradition would
fill stockings with fruits and nuts and leave them at the houses of the poor. When
asked who left them there, the nuns would simply say, “Perhaps it was St.
the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther began
in Germany and spread across Europe. Martin Luther was against St. Nicholas
receiving so much reverence, because he didn’t believe in the intercession or
veneration of saints. He wanted to move the attention from St. Nicholas to
Jesus, so he came up with the idea of a Christ child bringing gifts. Instead of
giving gifts in the name of St. Nicholas, he started the tradition of giving
gifts in the name of the Christ child, or Christkindl in German. But Luther’s
efforts to move away from St Nicholas were fruitless; very few countries (e.g. Germany,
Switzerland, Austria) still have the tradition of the Christkindl bringing
gifts to families on Christmas Eve. Instead, St. Nicholas’ feast day was merged
with Christmas day, and this is how people started giving gifts on Christmas
Eve rather than the eve of December 6th.
Dutch name for St. Nicholas is Sint Nikolaas, or Sinterklaas, which was
anglicised to Santa Claus in the early 1800s. Christkindl later evolved into
Santa Claus’ other name, Kris Kringle, in the 1830s. But how did St. Nicholas go from looking like the Bishop of
Myra to a jolly bearded man in a red suit? In 1809, a writer named Washington
Irving wrote a book called ‘A Knickerbocker’s History of New York’, in which he
described Santa Claus flying through the sky and dropping presents down
chimneys. This book became very famous and popularised Santa Claus, inspiring Clement
Clarke Moore to write a poem that was originally called ‘A Visit from St.
Nicholas’, now more commonly known as ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas’. This
led Thomas Nast, a cartoonist, to draw the modern image of Santa Claus that we
have today. Then in the 1920s, Coca-Cola began to feature Santa in their Christmas
adverts, and this played a big role in shaping the image of Santa.
we need to be more like St. Nicholas
Nicholas was very compassionate. Everything he had, he distributed to the poor
and needy, and this is what he was known for. This was the real Santa, but now
we have a commercialised Santa that only well-off families have access to, so children
only receive gifts if their parents can afford it. Churches in India have a
tradition where people dress up as Santa Claus and go house to house,
collecting money. This is not what St. Nicholas wanted; he wanted to give
money, not take it. He wanted to give to the poor and needy, not those who
already have enough. He brought happiness to many, and his legacy should live
on through us. Santa Claus is real, but only if we follow St. Nicholas’ example.
We can do this by following the teachings of Jesus, which is exactly what St.
Nicholas did. ‘In all this I have given you an example that by such work we
must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself
said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”’ (Acts 20:35)
Christmas, instead of only buying things for our own families, let’s make a decision
to help the poor and needy secretly, just like St. Nicholas did. There are so
many who are struggling, especially during this pandemic: people who’ve lost
their jobs, children whose lessons are online but don’t have a laptop or good Wi-Fi,
elderly who live alone and feel isolated. So many people aren’t able to
experience the love of St. Nicholas, because we aren’t spreading it. Let’s all try
to help someone this year. ‘Every generous act of giving, with every perfect
gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is
no variation or shadow due to change.’ (James 1:17) All gifts are given by
the Father, so it doesn’t matter if you give on December 6th or
December 25th, or if you give in the name of St. Nicholas or Santa
Claus. So, let’s make this Christmas different, because the world needs
something different this year. 2020 has been a tough year, but let’s put our
own worries and problems aside for a moment and focus on the people who are
less fortunate than us. Let’s all become Santa Claus and start giving gifts
secretly, then we can tell our children that Santa really is real.
of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under
compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’ (2 Corinthians 9:7) We all love giving gifts to
our children, but this Christmas, why don’t we explain to them that there are
so many children who don’t get presents at Christmas, and ask them if they
would like to send them something. Ask your children to help you choose a
present and write a card. You could reach out to different parishes and ask if
there are any families who are struggling so you can send them something. If
you can’t get their address, you could always send your gift to the parish
priest and ask them to pass it on to the family. Try to keep it a secret; don’t
write your name or details on the gift, maybe just say it’s from St. Nicholas
or Santa. Let’s make people start believing in St. Nicholas again. Let’s start
a new culture, a giving culture, and make St. Nicholas happy. Let’s bring back
the true meaning of Christmas. ‘Do not neglect to do good and to share what
you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.’ (Hebrews 6:16)
is it important to help people secretly? ‘Beware of practicing your piety
before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from
your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before
you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they
may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.
But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is
doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in
secret will reward you.’ (Matthew 6:1-3) What does it mean to not let your left
hand know what your right hand is doing? Well, your left hand can’t know what
your right hand is doing if that information is not stored in your brain. Try
not to keep count of your good deeds. Help as many people as you can, and your
Father in heaven will reward you. Give and it will be given to you.When
you give, give a good measure; don’t be stingy because the measure you give
will be the measure you get back (Luke 6:38).
does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or
sister in need and yet refuses help?’ (1 John 3:17) You might not consider
yourself to be someone who has the world’s goods, or you might feel like there
are others who are in a better position to help. But helping others is not a
job for the rich, we all have a duty to help each other. There is always
someone less fortunate than us, and there is always something we can do to help
them. Let’s spread some hope and be a light in these dark times. Let’s make a change
this Christmas, and let the whole world know that St. Nicholas is alive even today.