Tuesday, November 5, 2019

How St Nicholas became Santa Claus

But, not so fast. The evolution of today's Santa Claus has been a long and circuitous route.

The oldest stories come from the Tudor era and St. Nicholas. We know how that developed. However, over the many centuries, there have been several iterations St. Nicholas in different countries.

Martin Luther in the 1500's wanted to steer the children away from St. Nicholas. (Saints were not popular during this time, Luther thought praying to any saint was blasphemy.) So Swiss, Austrian, and German children were told that Kris Kringle was the one who brought gifts to them on Christmas Eve. This name was derived from German 'Kristkind' which means 'Christ Child'. 'Kris Kringle' is quoted in history as most recent as the 1830's.

There is also the history that in Germany St. Nicholas was accompanied by devil-like 'Krampusse,' who carried a switch to mildly scare the children. But it was St. Nicholas who handed out small gifts to the children.
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Russia has a unique tradition of an elderly woman named Babouschka. The story goes that she gave the wise men the wrong directions to Bethlehem to keep them from finding Jesus. When guilt over took her, she could not find the men to steer them correctly. Even today,  on the evening of January 5, she is credited with leaving gifts at their bedside, hoping one is Baby Jesus who will forgive her.
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In Scandinavia, Jultomten, riding in a sleigh pulled by goats, delivered gifts to children.

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In France, Pere Noel left treats in the children's shoes. 

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Italy's tradition may be the most unique. Toys are left in the stockings of the children by a woman called La Befana, a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of the homes. 
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Then there was Sinter Klaas. 


When the Dutch settled New York, they brought with them their tradition of Sinter Klaas. In the colonies of the New World, the legends of the scary German gift givers endured. But not for the Dutch.  Their legendary "Sinter Klaas" eventually became "Santa Claus".
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Even the Salvation Army's 'Army' of Santas that traditionally man the red kettles at Christmas collecting money for the poor has deep roots in the history of Santa Claus. In the 1890's, needing to collect money to pay for the Christmas meals they wanted to provide the poor, the Army paid unemployed men to dress like Santa Claus in red suits and man their kettles on the corners of the streets in New York. So when you hear that familiar bell (which to me, is always one of the first signs of Christmas) remember that the Army was originally one of Santas.

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