Santa Claus is one old dude. We all know that. Just look at how white his beard and hair are, right? But did you know that the legend of Santa Claus, and St. Nick, go back nearly to the time of Christ, nearly 2,000 years ago? No? Well then, sit back, pour yourself a hot chocolate, grab yourself a plate of cookies, and get ready for the story of Santa Claus.
It is said that around the year 280 A.D., there was a man born by the name of Nicolas. He was born in the Near East in a town called Patara. To find it today, look on a map or a globe for the country of Turkey, near Greece. It was there that the man who would become Santa Claus was born.
Nicolas had a big heart, so big that he became a monk and devoted himself to his god and his religion. But Nicolas also was a big fan of his family and his neighbors, and he also devoted himself to them. Word spread in his homeland and far and wide about how kind and generous Nicolas was. Nicolas was born into wealth, and stories soon spread about how Nicolas gave away all of his family’s money to the poor, the sick, and anyone else he came across who needed it.
He became so famous that Nicolas was known as the protector of all children (and sailors too). Once, he even saved three young girls, sisters, from being sold into slavery by their father. Their father, you see, needed money, and was going to make a fortune by selling his daughters. Instead, Nicolas came to their rescue by offering the father money for the girls, and then setting them free.
No wonder that Nicolas became Saint Nicolas after his death. For hundreds of years, Europeans celebrated him on the date of his death, December 6. Some even say that Saint Nick was the most popular saint in all of Europe during the end of the Middle Ages. December 6 was always considered a lucky day for this very same reason.
How did Saint Nick go from being the protector of children to Jolly Old Saint Nick, the guy we know as Santa Claus, who not only protects children, but brings them great gifts too? Well, that’s one heck of a long story, and it involves a manger, and baby Jesus. We probably all already know that story by heart.
But what you may not know is that the end of December was already a big deal in Europe before Christmas was started. It was during this time of year that many Europeans celebrated that winter was almost over. They would have great feasts, celebrated the harvest of their wine and their beer, and the coming of spring and the sun. So then it made perfect sense that when people also started celebrating the birth of Baby Jesus, that the two traditions would meld.
The notion of feasting and celebrating a holiday of lights, the happiness and giving of Saint Nick, and the hope and love brought by Baby Jesus, all of it merged to form the perfect holiday: Christmas. And who makes sure that it happens every year? None other than Santa Claus.