The legend of Santa can be traced back to 280 CE and a monk named Nicholas living in modern-day Turkey. There are numerous stories about the miracles of St. Nicholas, including that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. He is also credited with secretly bringing gold to the home of three young girls so that they wouldn't be sold into slavery. He became known as the patron saint of children and sailors.
During the Renaissance he was the most popular saint in Europe, especially in Holland, and retained his positive reputation even after the Protestant Reformation. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6, and from 1200 to 1500 he was celebrated as the bringer of gifts.
It was the Dutch who brought St. Nicholas or in Dutch Sinter Klaas to the Americas, but Christmas and Santa did not begin to gain popularity until the 19th century. Washington Irving's 1809 book Knickerbocker's History of New York first portrayed a pipe-smoking St. Nicholas flying a wagon and delivering presents to good girls and boys and switches to bad ones.
Clement Moore's 1823 poem "The Night Before Christmas," originally published in the Troy Sentinel, was wildly popular and this version of the "jolly old elf" remains the modern ideal of Santa Claus. The image was further fleshed out by Thomas Nast's illustrations. The first of which depicted Santa passing out toys in the Union camp and was published in the 1862 Christmas issue of Harper's Weekly.
To learn more about Santa, check out one of these titles and don't forget to stop by and see Santa during his annual visits to your favorite St. Tammany Parish Library branch:
The American version of Santa Claus is largely based on Clement Moore's poem "The Night Before Christmas." Martin Gardner details the poem's origins and history, annotates the original poem to explain references, and collects parodies, sequels, and imitations.
Combining fact with legend, Santa takes readers through seventeen centuries of Christmas magic.
A real-bearded Santa Claus shares memories and lessons learned from his twenty-years of experience.