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Christmas Games -- Is that You Santa?

Aug 18, 2007
We all now the jolly old guy who lives at the North Pole with a bunch of hard working elves--right? I mean Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without him! But just how did this jolly old character come to be? Why does he where a red suit and fly around with eight reindeer? How did he come to live in the North pole with all those elves?

Our beloved Santa Claus is a jolly old man indeed. His origins began centuries ago as a saint known as St. Nicholas in an area known today as Turkey. Saint Nicholas was a very old, much loved and generous saint. Legend has it that he gave bags of gold to three daughters of a destitute nobleman. Lacking any money or property for a dowry, the nobleman had intended to sell his daughters into prostitution or slavery. St Nicholas rescued them by throwing bags of gold through the window so each had a proper dowry.

Stories of St. Nicholas's good deeds multiplied. Over time, he became known as a protector and rescuer of children, parents, sailors and many others. By the time of the Renaissance, he had become the favorite saint of nearly everyone.

Though popular for centuries, St. Nicholas had no real history in Colonial America. However, during the Revolution, Dutch families, who had settled in New York City, began meeting annually on December 23 to celebrate the St. Nicholas on the anniversary of his death. St Nicholas celebrations and stories, as told by Dutch immigrants, helped to increased his recognition.

In 1809 Washington Irving's History of New York, introduced St. Nicholas to a National audience. The book introduced St. Nicholas as a "friend to children" however, the description of him had little resemblance to the Santa Claus we know today. In 1822, Clarence Clarke Moore, a literature teacher of Dutch ancestry, wrote a poem for his children titled "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas." In his poem St. Nicholas acquired a new appearance and a bright new personality. We know this poem today as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." Moore was said to have modeled the new St. Nicholas after a "portly rubicund Dutchman" who lived near his father's home in New York.

Moore's poem was written as entertainment for his children only but the next year the poem was reprinted in a paper in New York with the title of "A Visit from St. Nicholas." It was said to have been submitted to the paper by a guest of the Moore family who visited during the Christmas season. Eventually, Moore published a collection of his poems, including "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in 1844. The poem was repeated sporadically throughout the Nation in various newspapers and publications during the Holiday season thus increasing the popularity of St. Nicholas.

Over time, Moore's poem was illustrated and various versions of St. Nicholas attire emerged. The early drawings of St. Nicholas had no real resemblance to the Santa Claus we know today. Early St. Nicholas was often drawn with toys in one hand and a "switch" in the other. Toys for the good children and a threat of the switch for bad children. This depiction is related to the German version of St Nicholas known as Belsnickel. This version of St Nicholas likely derived from the large numbers of German settlers in New York and Pennsylvania areas.

By the beginning of the Civil War, Belsnickel had faded and a likeness more closely resembling modern Santa Claus begin to take shape. In 1842 a book, published in Philadelphia, titled Kris Kringle's Christmas Tree, a holiday present for boys and girls included this updated illustration of Santa Claus. His actions were modeled after Moore's poem except he put gifts on the branches of the Christmas tree and not in stockings.

Today Santa Claus, with his red fur lined suit, sack full of toys and flying reindeer are as central to the American Christmas as gift-giving. His actions set into the motion the excitement of Christmas eve and Christmas morning. He is a folk hero who provides children joy and wonderment of the season though his often told stories.

As a successful factory owner, philanthropist, and quasi-religious figure, Santa represents the wistful yearnings of a newer nation who embraces its wealth while still searching for spiritual meaning. Yes, Santa "sells" and his character has helped merchants sell their Christmas goods for centuries. For many he represents all that is wrong with the holiday season. For others he embodies kindness and good-will that best characterizes the meaning of the season.

No matter where you fall in your opinion of St. Nichols, St. Nick, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus or whatever you call him. There's no denying that for American children there is no bigger delight than the wonder of his story and the joy of his character.
About the Author
Terri Hunziker founded GamesAndLetters.com. Games and Letters provides hundreds of print-and-play games -- Christmas party games, bridal shower games, baby shower games, and more! For immediate access to hundreds of fun games and ideas for your next party, visit, gamesandletters.com.
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