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A brief history of Santa Claus-Part II

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Yesterday, we offered the first installment on the history of Santa Claus focusing on the American perceptions and where they came from. Today, we continue with what the late Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story”, specifically, the religious foundations.

According to the website,, Santa is based on Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna (now Izmir) in present-day Turkey. He lived in the 4th century AD and was very rich, generous and giving toward children. Often he gave to poor children by throwing gifts in through their windows. The Orthodox Church later raised St. Nicholas to a position of great esteem. The Roman Catholic Church also recognized him as the patron saint of children and seafarers. His name day is December 6th.

In the protestant areas of northern Germany, St. Nicholas became known as Die Weinachtsmann. In England, he was, and is, called Father Christmas. As he made his way to this country with Dutch immigrants, he became known as Santa Claus.

In North American literature, Santa Claus, in white beard, red jacket and pompom-topped cap, would fly around on his sleigh delivering presents with the help of eight (or nine if you include Rudolph!) reindeer and climb down the chimney to leave gifts in stockings children hung on the mantle.

Over time, children naturally were curious where Santa Claus lived when he wasn’t delivering presents. That gave rise to the legend that he lives at the North Pole where he spends the year making toys, made in large part by his elf assistants.

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