Long before 8-year old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote The New York Sun in 1897 asking, “. . . is there a Santa Claus?”, there lived a fourth century Bishop named Nicholas of Myra in Asia Minor near the Mediterranean Sea. He was a generous man who slipped gold and silver coins through keyholes and under doors into the homes of poor people. He also used his wealth to save children from becoming slaves to Romans.
After his death December 14, A.D. 350, the Catholic Church declared December 6 Saint Nicholas Feast Day.
Eleventh century pirates stole his bones from Turkey to rest in Italy.
Saint Nicholas , a guardian of children and sailors, is the patron saint of Russia. The Dutch call him Sinterklass. The French call him Pere Noel or Bonhomme Noel. The Germans call him Christkind or Kris Kringle.
We call him Santa Claus. He is the ghost of Saint Nicholas, and his generous spirit continues.
Once depicted as tall and thin, Santa Claus wore a bishop’s robe and rode a white horse. In 1820, Washington Irving described him as a stout, jolly old man who wore a broad-brimmed hat, smoked a long pipe, and rode over treetops in a wagon filled with gifts.
Two years later, Clement Clarke Moore described him as a chubby and plump old elf with a little round belly in his poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” also known as “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Moore added twinkling eyes, cheeks like roses, a nose like a cherry, and a white beard.
Sixty years later, editorial cartoonist Thomas Nast drew Santa Claus as the elf he thought Moore described.
In the 1920s, Coca-Cola Company artist Haddom Sundblom drew Santa Claus in a red velvet suit larger than life holding a bottle of Coca-Cola as an advertising poster.
As The New York Sun editor Francis P. Church replied to Virginia O’Hanlon, in part, that because nobody sees Santa Claus, does not mean there is no Santa Claus. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist . . .”