As I am a Dutch citizen but living here in Vietnam throughout the years I have seen Christmas developing and with that Santa Claus. This year more then ever we can face all celebrations and decorations just looking around. So I thought it might be good to tell the story of Santa Claus. It starts a long time ago.

The story of Saint Nicholas

Sint Nicolaas is called Sinterklaas in the Netherlands and Belgium. Who was that good "Saint" anyway? Saint Nicholas was born in 270 in Patara - Lycia in the Eastern Roman Empire, which is now in Antalya in Turkey. When he was nineteen, he became a priest. He died on December 6, 342. In the Netherlands and Belgium it is claimed that Santa Claus comes from Spain. This is probably because his skeleton was transferred to Italy centuries later after his death. This place was in Spanish hands for a long time. In many other countries in Europe the children's festival of St Nicholas is also celebrated, but the interpretation of the folklore varies by country and region.

Saint Nicholas was a bishop and performed many miracles. He helped people survive if they were poor. He did this by throwing food and gems into the houses. Because St. Nicholas has caused many miracles during his life, he has been declared a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. In the 13th century his name day was set on December 6. On December 5, people are celebrating his "birthday" to commemorate the good man. He does not receive presents, but, as a good saint should, he gives them away. 

Because the Saint was declared saint, many legends went around. The following story has left many traditions, such as sprinkling the candy and giving the unexpected, also the golden chocolate coins come from here.

A nobleman from Myra was so poor that he could no longer pay a dowry for his three daughters. And where there is no dowry, there are no men to marry. The girls threatened to remain unmarried and worse: the girls would have to rely on prostitution for their support. Then Bishop Nicholas decided to intervene. At night, he went to the poor girls' house with the light of the moon. He threw coins in several times until there was enough money for a dowry for the three girls.

In ancient times the god Wodan was a kind of Sinterklaas. Wodan was "transformed" into Saint Nicholas by the Catholic Church. This, because the church of Rome could not get the image of Wodan out of mind with the believers. The church managed to reverse the image by giving Wodan a "facelift": with a bishop's coat over his hairy skin and a miter on his head. Instead of a lightning bolt, Wodan's replacement was given a staff with a curvature at the top. The black horse became a brite white horse. His name became Saint Nicholas and he was declared a child friend.

Sinterklaas has helpers called Petes and they are always with him. There is no clarity about the origin of the Petes. But it is probably an Ethiopian orphan who stayed with the Saint as a thank you. The miter probably originated from an Eastern head covering "a Phrygian cap" that is normally only worn by the pope. Sinterklaas always walks over the roof at night. This is because he does not want to be seen. This way, he and his employee Pete can throw all the presents through the chimneys.

The story of Santa Claus

The American Santa Claus is actually the same as Saint Nicholas in Western Europe. Santa Claus has the same character as Saint Nicholas. Only now he is a happy old elf who moves on a sleigh pulled by eight reindeers. This sled is full of presents, such as toys. "Santa Claus" also has a bag full of presents, just like Sinterklaas. He slides through the air from chimney to chimney with his sled. He descends down the chimney to fill the children's socks. In Scandinavia there is a similar person: the Joelman. This also uses a sleigh with reindeer in front. He brings fertility and gifts.

Santa Claus originated in the United States in 1626 when a Dutch ship arrived there with the figurehead "Sinter Claes". That is because Nicholas is the patron saint of seafarers. Those on board wanted to set up a colony, this colony became New Amsterdam: what is now New York. The sailors brought the Dutch customs with them and so a generous character was introduced to "the new world".


Santa Claus drinks Coca Cola

Santa was first presented as a scary person, but luckily he became more and more friendly over time. Because of Coca-Cola Santa Claus has really changed into a sweet and nice man. In 1931, Coca-Cola wanted to sell the sweet drink more to children. Due to the law that no advertising images were allowed with children in it, they had to find a way to reach their target group. Commissioned by Coca-Cola, Haddon Sundblom visualized a friendly Santa Claus. He drew a cheerful man in the well-known bright red suit and the white fur collar. The eight reindeers of Santa Claus all got a name in 1822: Blitzen, Comet, Cupid, Dancer, Dasher, Donner, Prancer and Vixen. But with reindeers, most people immediately think of Rudolf the red nose reindeer of the famous song. This Rudolf only came into the picture in 1939. Then Robert L. May created the ninth reindeer. Children look forward to Santa Claus every year because of the presents. These presents must be made and wrapped. This work is done by Santa's elves. These fairies live in his house and make presents for children in all countries throughout the year.

So there is a big similarity between Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) and Santa Claus: they actually originated from the same man: Nicholas of Myra.

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