Santa Claus is the one of primary angelic figure in the minds of every children that they grow up believing. For some children, Santa Claus remains a happy fairy tale that they smoothly outgrow before their teenage years. Many confess that they were devastated to discover that there is indeed no Santa as the films like “North Pole” or colorful greeting cards will have you believe. Then, again, there are also cynical kids who never believe in Santa at all.
The Man Behind the Story of Father Christmas/Santa Claus
The most famous story about St. Nicholas tells how the custom of hanging up stockings to put presents in first started! It goes like this:
There was a poor man who had three daughters. The man was so poor that he did not have enough money for a dowry, so his daughters couldn’t get married. (A dowry is a sum of money paid to the bridegroom by the bride’s parents on the wedding day. This still happens in some countries, even today.) One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house (this meant that the oldest daughter was then able to be married).
The bag fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry! This was repeated later with the second daughter. Finally, determined to discover the person who had given him the money, the father secretly hid by the fire every evening until he caught Nicholas dropping in a bag of gold. Nicholas begged the man to not tell anyone what he had done, because he did not want to bring attention to himself. But soon the news got out and when anyone received a secret gift, it was thought that maybe it was from Nicholas.
Because of his kindness Nicholas was made a Saint. St. Nicholas is not only the saint of children but also of sailors! One story tells of him helping some sailors that were caught in a bad storm off the coast of Turkey. The storm was raging around them and all the men were terrified that their ship would sink beneath the giant waves. They prayed to St. Nicholas to help them. Suddenly, he was standing on the deck before them. He ordered the sea to be calm, the storm died away, and they were able to sail their ship safely to port.
St. Nicholas was exiled from Myra and later put in prison during the persecution of Christians by the Emperor Diocletian. No one is really knows when he died, but it was on 6th December in either 345 or 352. In 1087, his bones were stolen from Turkey by some Italian merchant sailors. The bones are now kept in the Church named after him in the Italian port of Bari. On St. Nicholas feast day (6th December), the sailors of Bari still carry his statue from the Cathedral out to sea, so that he can bless the waters and so give them safe voyages throughout the year.
in 1066, before he set sail to England, William the Conqueror prayed to St. Nicholas asking that his conquest would go well.
You can find out lots about about St Nicholas at the St. Nicholas Center.
Christmas in Different Countries
Before Victoria‘s reign started in 1837 nobody in Britain had heard of Santa Claus or Christmas Crackers. No Christmas cards were sent and most people did not have holidays from work. The wealth and technologies generated by the industrial revolution of the Victorian era changed the face of Christmas forever.
At the start of Victoria’s reign, children’s toys tended to be handmade and hence expensive, generally restricting availability to those “rich folk” again. With factories however came mass production, which brought with it games, dolls, books and clockwork toys all at a more affordable price.
This was as true in the United States as it was in England, even with the Civil War raging. Children received homemade gifts due to the scarcity of materials, Union and Confederate soldiers swapped coffee and newspapers on the frontlines, and some did their best to decorate the camp. It was into this world that the talented artist Thomas Nast arrived in the 1850s. Doing his first sketches as a teenager, he became a staff illustrator for Harper’s Weekly, one of the most popular magazines of the day, in 1862.
In 1821 an anonymous poem called ‘Old Santeclaus with Much Delight’ was published in New York. It was the first time that Santa/St Nicholas was described in a sleigh being pulled by a reindeer. The poem was published with eight illustrations in a book called ‘The Children’s Friend: A New-Year’s Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve’ and it’s the earliest images of ‘Santa Claus’ rather than St Nicholas or Sinterklaas.