The Legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to a monk named St. Nicholas who was born about 280 A.D. near Myra in modern day Turkey. St. Nicholas the monk gave away all his inherited wealth and traveled doing good deeds by helping the poor and sick. One story tells how he saved 3 girls whose father was going to sell them into slavery by providing them with a dowry so they could be married. His popularity grew and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. A feast on the day of his death December 6 became a tradition. December 6 became known as a lucky day, a good day to make large purchases or get married. By the renaissance, St. Nicholas became the most popular saint in Europe to idolize.
Around the world many St. Nick/Santa stories, and traditions took hold. In Scandinavia an elf named Jultomken was thought to deliver gifts on a sleigh pulled by goats. In England, Father Christmas delivered gifts and goodies to fill stockings in homes. Pere Noel filled children’s shoes with presents and candy in France. In Italy a kind witch named La Befana rode a broomstick down chimneys to deliver toys to fill children’s stocking.
Accounts of Dutch family’s celebrations on the anniversary of St. Nicholas’ death can be found in newspaper stories from New York in the late 18th century. Santa Claus the name, came from the Dutch name Sinter Klaas. Washington Irving helped promote the Sinter Klaas stories when he popularized St. Nicholas calling him the patron saint of New York in his book on the history of New York in the early 1800’s. Sinter Klaas was described as a “Rascal” with a three-cornered blue hat and red waist coat with yellow stockings; as well as a man wearing a huge hat with a ginormous pair of Flemish trunk hoses.
Clement Clark Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a poem for these 3 daughters titled “An account of a visit from St. Nicholas”. More popularly known as “Twas the night before Christmas”. Moore was hesitant to publish the poem due to its frivolous nature. We can all point to Moore as being responsible for what Santa Claus looks like and drives around. A cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1881 drew a depiction of Santa Claus that has become the modern Santa. It appeared in Harpers Weekly. Rudolph came along 100 years after Moore’s poem. The other reindeer got left behind, now they are just part of the poem.
The holiday and gift giving revival started really going commercial. By the 1840’s newspapers started having separate Christmas gift ad sections. In 1841 thousands of children descended on a Philadelphia shop to see a full-size Santa Claus model. In the 1890’s the Salvation Army needed money to pay for all the free meals they handed out. They dressed unemployed men in Santa Claus outfits and sent them into the streets of New York to solicit donations.
Hollywood got into the game later. Classic Christmas movie watching has become a multi-million-dollar opportunity each year. Almost 5 million people watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” not counting streaming rentals, video disks, etc.
We spend a lot!
The National Retail Federation estimated that we spent almost $940 billion on the holidays in 2022. We spent almost 7 trillion in total retail sales in 2022. So, Holiday spending represents 15 % of what we spend all year long on almost everything. You cannot make up what humans end up doing. We took the stories of a generous Monk in turkey almost 2000 years ago and morphed that into a sled, reindeer, fat man in a red suit, and gift giving. Generosity is a wonderful human trait, here is hoping we never quit.
Hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and holiday season, and I especially hope we all have the opportunity to hang out with friends and family.
Thanks, Andy McClung CFP®
Santa Claus History.com Editors/ NationalRetailFederation.com/
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