St. Nicholas / Santa Clause Some History

Edmond P. DeRousse December 7, 2018 at 1:26 pm


This is a scientific reconstruction of what the real St. Nicholas may have looked like.

Santa Claus comes from the Dutch words “Sinter Klaas”.

Santa Claus is loosely based on a real person, St. Nicholas, born around 270 A.D. He died on December 6, 342 A. D. After the Reformation period of the 1500s, his history was pretty much forgotten in Protestant Europe. But in Holland his memory was kept alive. December 6 is celebrated as St Nicolas, feast day.

St. Nicholas was born in Patara, part of present-day Turkey. He was a devout Christian who later became the Bishop of Myra. St. Nicholas was an anonymous gift giver who paid down dowries of impoverished girls and handed out treats and coins to children. He was canonized as the patron saint of children.

St. Nicholas arrives every year on horseback dressed in a bishop’s red robe and mitre (a traditional ceremonial head-dress). St. Nicolas is accompanied by Zwarte Piet who helps him distribute gifts to the good children and lumps of coal, potatoes, or switches to the bad children.

When the Dutch arrived in New Amsterdam, what is now New York City, they brought Sinter Klaas with them. The English-speaking people changed his name to Santa Claus. The image of St. Nicholas as a kindly old man was combined with an old Nordic folktale of a magician who rewarded good children with presents and punished naughty children. Because St. Nicholas is associated with gift giving, it made sense to many, to combine his holiday with the birth of Christ, the greatest gift ever given to the world.

So, what did St. Nicholas possibly look like?

St. Nicholas’ remains are buried in the crypt of the Bailica di San Niola in Bari, Italy. In the 1950s his remains were removed while his crypt was being repaired. At the Vatican’s request thousands of minutely-detailed measurements and x-ray photographs were taken of his skull and other bones.

In 2004, using modern forensic pathology, an expert facial anthropologist Caroline Wilkinson, then at the University of Manchester in England, constructed a model of St. Nicholas’ head. She used the data and measurements from the earlier provided information. State-of-the-art- computer software was then used to develop the model.

In 2014, she updated her original work, incorporating the latest 3D interactive technology and facial reconstruction system. The result is a middle-aged man with a round face, squaw jaw, and a long beard. Their model included an asymmetrically healed severely broken nose.

Here is the result:


Some people, at the time, believed his broken nose indicated the man had a brawling past. But St. Nicholas lived during the persecution of Christians under Roman Emperor Diocletian. Most likely, his nose was broken while imprisoned and tortured.

Santa Claus Trivia


  • He first appeared in the US as Santa Claus in a 1773 New York City newspaper.
  • Salvation Army has been sending Santa Claus-clad donation collectors into the streets since the 1890s.
  • In 1939 Robert L. May, a copy writer for Montgomery Ward advertising department, created Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer. Before 1939, Montgomery Ward bought and gave away coloring books at Christmas. By having May create Rudolph, the company thought they could save money by printing their own book. May came up with the idea of a misfit reindeer who saves the day on a foggy Christmas Day by guiding Santa’s sleigh.
  • Songwriter Johnny Marks, May’s brother-in-law, wrote the lyrics and melody for Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer ten years later. It was first recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 and sold 2 million copies that year.
  • May originally considered naming the famous reindeer Rollo or Reginald. 4
  • Washington Irving in his 1809 book entitled History of New York characterized Santa Claus as a portly, bearded man who smoked a pipe. That was the first time Santa was said to have slid down the chimney.
  • Coca-Cola is responsible for creating the accepted modern image of Santa as a jolly man in a red suit. Haddon Sundblom in 1939 illustrated him that way for widely- distributed ad campaign.
  • The first department store Santa appeared in 1890. It was James Edgar, a Massachusetts businessman. He dressed up as Santa as a marketing tool. Parents from all over the state were drug to Edgar’s dry goods store in Brockton, MA to see him. The tradition was born.
  • There was no mention of Mrs. Claus until 1849 when James Rees published his short story A Christmas
  • Only St. Mary is portrayed more times by artists than St. Nicholas.
  • Gifts were exchanged during The Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 in Europe before the 16th German protestants later began celebrating Christkindl on December 25. It was a feast day for the Christ-Child .
  • Jospeh Stalin tried to abolish Santa Claus and Christmas, during his reign in Russia. He wanted to replace it with a more secular event called “Winter Festival”.
  • Tradition dictates Santa eats 2 chocolate chip cookies per household. Assuming that is true, he would consume 374 billion calories, 33,000 tons of sugar, and 151,000 tons of fat on Christmas Eve.
  • What about the wrapping paper for nearly 2 billion children receiving gifts? The average gift most likely will use 31.5 inches of wrapping paper requiring around 1.6 million miles of paper. Enough to wrap the world 60 times.
  • The top three countries writing letters to Santa Claus are France 1.7 million, Canada 1.35 million, and the United States over 1 million.
  • In Colorado, there is a Santa Claus university that teaches people how to become professional Santas. Courses include media training, posing, beard shaping, dressing, and more.
  • A Tió de Nadal or “poop log” covered by a blanket is hit by children on Christmas Eve in Spain’s Catalan region. Then they look under the blanket to discover if the log “pooped” out a pile of presents and candies. After collecting their treats, they burn the log for warmth.


  • In Spain and Spanish-speaking countries, the child Jesus (el Nino Jesus) brings Christmas gifts for the children during Holy Night.
  • The German name of the Christ Child is Christkind, commonly used in its diminutive form Christkindel.
  • French children leave their shoes by the fireplace on Christmas Eve so that they can be filled with gifts by Pere Noel.
  • In Sweden, the children eagerly wait for Jultomten, whose sleigh is drawn by the Julbocker, the goats of the thunder god Thor.
  • In Denmark, the gift-bringer Julemanden carries a sack and is brought by reindeer.
  • The children of Poland receive their gifts from the stars, while in Hungary the angels bring them.
  • Christian children of Syria receive their gifts from the Youngest Camel on January 6th, which is Three Kings’ Day. The “Three Wise Kings”, who were carried by the smallest camel, is believed to bring the children gifts. They leave shoes filled with hay on their doorsteps to feed the camels
  • The children of Spain, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and South American countries also receive gifts on January 6, Epiphany Day, from the Three Kings.
  • In Italy, an unusual figure is the gift bringer for children. It is the “Lady Befana” or “Bufana” (La Befana), the ageless wanderer. Apparently La Befana refused to go to Bethlehem with the wise men when they passed her door, and she has been searching for the Christ Child ever since. On the Eve of Three Kings’ Day (Epiphany), she wanders from house to house, peering into the faces of the children and leaving gifts. On that day, the children roam the streets, blowing their paper trumpets and receiving the gifts which La Befana has given them. Her name comes from the word “Epiphany”.

                                                                            GOOD TIDINGS TO ALL!


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