The Many Faces of Santa



"He had a broad face and a round little belly, That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly, He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself"

Clement Moore, "A Visit from St. Nicholas"


On the night before Christmas, all across the world, millions of children will be tucked in their beds while "visions of sugarplums dance in their heads." When they awake they will check their stockings to see if Santa Claus has come.


Santa Claus has become the most beloved of Christmas symbols and traditions. The image of the jolly old elf flying in a sleigh pulled by reindeers and leaving toys and gifts for every child is know worldwide.


Here is a quick glimpse of the jolly old fellow also know as good old St. Nick!


Father Christmas - The history of Santa Claus begins with a man called Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, in what is now Turkey. Saint Nicholas was know for his charity and wisdom. Legends tell of him coming from a wealthy family and giving all his money to the poor. Church tradition teaches that many were healed by his prayers. He died in 340 AD and was buried in Myra.


Late in the 11th century religious soldiers from Italy took the remains of the saint back with them to Italy. They built a church in honor of him in the town of Bari, a port town in southern Italy. Soon Christian pilgrims from all over the world came to visit the church of Saint Nicholas. These pilgrims took the legend of Saint Nicholas back to their native lands. As the legend of Saint Nicholas spread it would take on the characteristics of each country.


Saint Nicholas - In Europe during the 12th century Saint Nicholas Day became a day of gift giving and charity. Germany, France, and Holland celebrated December 6th as a religious holiday and gave gifts to their children and the poor.


Sinterklaas – When the Dutch colonists traveled to America, they brought with them their Sinterklaas, an austere bishop who wore a red bishop's costume and rode on a white horse.


The American image of Sinterklaas would gradually evolve