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The Different Origins of Santa Claus

Santa Claus is an integral part of Christmas celebrations. Find out about the origins of this much-loved figure.

At Christmas time, children all over the world wait for Santa Claus. He is the man who brings gifts to children, if they have been good during the rest of the year. However, the origins of this mythical character are not very well known. The character of Santa Claus is based on different persons depending on which region you are in. Here are some of the popular origins.

Christian Origins

According to early Christian literature, the inspiration for Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas. He was the bishop of Myra, which is now a part of modern-day Turkey. He lived during the fourth century A.D. and devoted his entire life to the service of the less fortunate. Saint Nicholas was well known for his propensity to give poor people gifts. One of the most famous stories is about how he gave dowries to three daughters of a poor yet devout Christian. These dowries enabled the women to prevent themselves from being condemned to a life of slavery.

Saint Nicholas is also known as the patron saint of merchants, children, seamen, etc. His remains are housed in a basilica in Southern Italy, which is a pilgrimage site. Besides Saint Nicholas, few other saints are also considered as the original Santa Claus. For example, Greeks consider Saint Basil as the original Santa Claus. For the French, it is Saint Martin of Tours.

North European Origins

Before embracing Christianity, people in Northern Europe worshipped traditional Norse gods. In this region, Santa Claus is said to have originated from the chief god, Odin. Every year, at Christmas time, Odin had a hunting party for the other gods, who lived in his kingdom. Odin's mount is a flying horse called Sleipnir. During the night of the hunt, children would fill their boots with straw, carrots, and sugar and place them near the fireplace in the home. This was meant to be food for Sleipnir. Odin was said to reward the children for their good deeds by replacing the horse's food with sweets or gifts. This practice has continued in Belgium and Germany and is now associated with Santa Claus.

There is also another folk tale associated with Santa Claus in this region. A terrible demon called Krampus would enter people's homes through the chimney and kill the children who lived there. A holy man (usually Saint Nicholas) managed to trick the demon and bound it with magical chains. Thus, the demon was trapped and forced to obey the saint's orders. As punishment for his crimes, the demon was ordered to go back to homes and deliver gifts instead.

The origins of Santa Claus from this tale are still unclear. One version says that the demon's punishment lasted for eternity and he still has to deliver presents every year. Another story says that the demon was so disgusted by doing such a good deed that he demanded to be sent back to Hell, leaving this task to the holy man. A third version says that the punishment reformed the demon, who evolved into the modern-day Santa Claus. He went on to recruit imps and elves to help him in his work.

Dutch Origins

In the Netherlands too, Santa Claus is associated with Saint Nicholas, though the story surrounding him is different. In this country, Saint Nicholas is also known as Sinterklaas, who is referred to as 'De Goede Sint' or the friendly saint. A helper, who is called 'Zwarte Piet' or Black Peter, usually accompanies him. The helper is said to be an Ethiopian slave boy named Peter. Saint Nicholas freed him from slavery and the boy was so grateful that he decided to stay with the saint and help in his work.

No matter what the origin, there is no denying that Santa Claus is one of the most popular figures in the world. On Christmas Eve, children go to sleep knowing that when the morning comes, they will wake up to find the gifts he has brought for them.

Have you ever wondered where Santa Claus came from? Do you know of any other stories regarding the origin of this character? Does Santa Claus visit your home at Christmas to give gifts to your children? To share your tips, views, and experiences, click here.

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