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A Dutch Santa Claus??

For most American's Santa Claus is and always will be THE symbol of Christmas and Childhood Joy. Most people don't assign him any real religious significance, just a traditional one. But the truth is Santa is full of religious AND traditional significance!

Santa Clause as we know him today is largely based on the story of St. Nicholas, a 4th century Christian Bishop from what is now Turkey. He was known for his habit of giving gifts to the poor. One memorable story has him meeting a pious but very poor man who had three daughters. In order to save the girls from a life of prostitution he presented the father with dowries. In most European countries he is still portrayed as a white haired bearded bishop in his clerical robes. Later he became the patron saint of a great many groups including children, the impoverished and prostitutes...

In addition to his European influences he also has a history among early Germanic Tribes. One of their major Gods was Odin, the ruler of Asgard. Odin is usually shown as an old man with a long white beard (not unlike St. Nicholas). Odin was often depicted as leading a hunting party through the skies where he rode his eight legged horse named Sleipnir. Portions of the Poetic Eddas, Sleipnir is described as being able to leap great distances, which has been compared to Santa's reindeer by some modern scholars.

During winter months children would place their boots near the chimney and fill them with straw and carrots as gifts for Sleipnir. As a reward for this, Odin would leave gifts in their boots when he flew over head. As these Germanic countries adopted the new religion of Christianity, this practice not only survived but evolved in an effort to fit the new beliefs. It was this evolution which forced Odin out and ushered in the days of "Good ol' St. Nick. Today the practice of hanging stockings by the chimney has replaced boots by the fire, but it's easy to see how closely related the practices are.

Santa Claus as we know him today was not introduced until around 1825 in the form of a narrative poem by a man named Clement C. Moore. However, the ideas which would become Santa were originally introduced to the Americas by Dutch settlers who arrived in New Amsterdam as they brought with them the practice of leaving their shoes out for St. Nicholas to fill with gifts. They also brought with them the name Sinterklaas, the name which eventually because Santa Claus.

Clement C. Moore's poem, which introduced Santa Claus to the world was originally titled "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Today, it's better known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." This is also the original source of the names for Santa's reindeer as well as the "jolly old elf" description...

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