Reflections Holiday Issue | Volume 17, Number 5 - Page 72

Originally , Santa had no help at all — just himself . In fact , he wasn ' t even called Santa in the beginning . He was known as “ Saint Nicholas ,” and he too was real . Saint Nicholas was a 4th Century Catholic bishop born in Turkey in the year 270AD . He is depicted in paintings with a long white beard , a red vestment with a cap , and a bishop ' s staff . He was from a rich family , but soon after becoming a bishop , Saint Nicholas gave virtually all of his wealth away to anyone in need . He was legendary for leaving anonymous gifts for the poor in empty stockings that were set out with a prayer . When Saint Nicholas died on December 6th , 345AD , the church made him a Saint and moved his passing to December 25th to be closer to the celebration of the birth of Christ . The gift-giving of Saint Nicholas coupled with the offerings of the Three Magi Kings , remained an integral part of the origins of Christmas for centuries to come .
In the middle ages , the Dutch kept Saint Nicholas ' s image and deeds true to form but pronounced his name with a Dutch accent , “ Sinterklass .” The Dutch had Sinterklass arriving on the cusp of every winter solstice riding an eightlegged horse and bearing gifts for good little children . So , in 1621 when the Dutch themselves “ found ” the New World , they settled on a little island hamlet and called it New Amsterdam , which of course later became New York City . Well , the Dutch brought Sinterklass with them and the spirit of the old Saint and his eight-legged horse stuck .
The modern Santa Claus was reinvented in New York City before he got married and moved away to the North Pole . In 1822 , a wealthy Episcopal theologian and Professor of Ancient Literature named Clement Clarke Moore brought Santa Claus as we know him into the modern world . Moore wrote a 56-line poem for his grandchildren and published it in an obscure New York newspaper . The poem was called , “ A Visit from Saint Nicholas ” now known as , “ The Night Before Christmas .” In the poem , Moore described the “ jolly old elf ” in full detail , including a beard as white as snow , button nose , rosy cheeks , and a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer — each with only four legs . The poem went 19th century viral and solidified the image of Santa in the hearts of all Americans . To this day , “ The Night Before Christmas ” is the only poem American children memorize voluntarily .
Up next , in 1862 , was a magazine illustrator for “ Harper ’ s Weekly ” in New York named Thomas Nast . Nast crystalized Santa ' s image as we know him today . Not an elf at all but a regular sort of fellow — still chubby , still bearded white with red suit and reindeer , but Santa Claus was now married living at the North Pole with Mrs . Claus and as important — Santa had “ Helpers ”— the birth of an industry and a support team the modern Santa could not live without .
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