Today the personification of Christmas goes by many names; Santa Claus, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Sinterklaas, to name a few.  But where did the traditions originate? 

Many come from the 4th century Greek bishop of Myra, in modern-day Turkey, who lived from 270 to 343, and became known as a secret gift-giver, through which the Christmas tradition has evolved. He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, students, brewers, pawnbrokers and of course, children. He performed so many miracles during his lifetime that he also became known as St Nicholas the Wonderworker.

One such miracle he was said to have performed was the resurrection of three boys, who a butcher had slain and tried to sell as ham during a famine, a rather grisly example. Another saw him request wheat from a passing merchant ship for the local people of Myra during another famine, to which the sailors reluctantly agreed. Two years worth of wheat was taken ashore, but when the ship reached its final destination, they found their ship was fully loaded once again.

Tales of these great feats gave rise to the Dutch tradition of Sinterklaas, from which the modern American tradition of Santa Claus derives. In the Netherlands, the Feast of St Nicholas will be celebrated tomorrow on 6 December.

The British tradition of Father Christmas is actually a much older personification of Christmas, first recorded in the 15th century. He originally was not associated with gift giving, but as Sinterklaas and Santa Claus became more popular on the continent and across the Atlantic, Father Christmas took on many of the same attributes, so that today the names are considered synonymous.

So next time you see a jolly gentlemen in a bright red suit, remember he could go by one of any number of different names.


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