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The Origins of Santa – The jolly old elf we see every Winter Holiday actually started a long time ago. We can look to the real-life persona of Bishop Nicolas of Smyrna from Turkey. This generous man lived in the 4th Century CE and earned fame by giving children fits through their windows on Christmas day. When this kindly man died, the Catholic Church made him a Saint who protects children and the impoverished. Thus we have St. Nicolas Day on December 6th.

The name changed a bit depending on the region, and the legend of Saint Nicolas traveled with immigrants to the United States. During the late 1700s the name St. A. Clause appeared in the press. Washington Irving write about this man-made-myth based on the Dutch imagery of Santa riding on horseback on Saint Nicholas’ Eve.

By the early 1800s, the famous poem The Night Before Christmas was published by Clement Clarke Moore. Thanks to Moore’s imagination we came to know Santa on a much more personal level, including how he laughs, about his elves, and even the names of his reindeer. This was followed in the mid-1800s with the image of Santa created by Thomas Nast in Harper’s magazine.

This portrait became the classic Santa Clause, and would be integrated into all manner of marketing including a Coca-Cola campaign in the 1930s.

There’s no question that Santa’s spirit lives on. Around the world its estimated that at least 500,000 letters to Santa go out every year. That number may be very low, however, because many of those letters don’t end up at the “North Pole” but instead in the hands of one or more of Santa’s helpers.

Go elves!


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