|Dutch Sinterklass. Note the bishop's mitre.|
St. Nicholas was born at Patara, a city of Lycia in Asia Minor; in his youth he made a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine; shortly after his return he became Bishop of Myra; cast into prison during the persecution of Diocletian, he was released after the accession of Constantine, and was present at the Council of Nicaea. In 1087 Italian merchants stole his body at Myra, bringing it to Bari in Italy.
England made St. Nicholas, "Father Christmas." Germany picked up on that title and in France, he became known as "Papa Noel."
As the various forms of Nicholas began to emerge in the secular world over the years, some unanticipated problems arose; protests which came out of...the church!
Martin Luther pounded his pulpit proclaiming that the true Christmas message was being lost by the St. Nicholas connection.
The Dutch came to the rescue and adopted what they believed to be a more religious view of Nicholas that would satisfy the critics.
The Dutch-German Protestant Reform Movement brought with it the idea that the Christ child should be the standard bearer for Christmas. The German word for Christ child, "Christkindl," evolved to, "Kris Kringle," yet another version and another irritant for Luther.
In 1822, on the night before Christmas, which the world began to celebrate on December 24th, Clement Moore wrote a poem about the gift-giver for his six children. That poem, "The Night Before Christmas," was published the following year in the Sentinel of Troy, New York.
Up to that time, Nicholas had taken various forms. He was portrayed with a black beard, then a white beard. He was shown dressed in everything including buckskin.
Mr. Moore defined Nicholas once and for all and renamed him, Santa Claus. He had, no doubt, been influenced by the Dutch who named him, "Sinter (Saint) Klass (short for Nicholas) and that had become, "Sinterklass."
Others who spoke broken English, knowing that gold had been found on the hearth by the fireplace, started a new legend. The gift-giver came down the chimney and would land in the cinders of burning embers, so they called him, "Cinder Klaussen," which would in Moore's hands become Santa Claus.
Clement Moore's poem made Santa famous. He even named the reindeer. Not only did he name them, he made them fly. He might have taken that idea from the poet, Washington Irving, who wrote a book in 1809 about a Dutch Colonist's dream in which St. Nick came riding over the tops of trees in a wagon wherein he brings yearly presents to the children.
An artist named Thomas Nash, who was a Harper's Weekly cartoonist, began to show what Santa looked like. He dressed him in red, which had been the official color of the priestly robes worn by St. Nicholas and went further by making Santa plump and jolly.
To show how much of a church connection to Santa there is, Clement Moore's father was the Episcopal Bishop of New York, and, Clement Moore himself was Professor of Theology at Union Theological Seminary.
Sources: Originally titled: SANTA'S (SURPRISING) ORIGINS, By Rev. Austin Miles, A special holiday story for ASSIST News Service; Catholic Encyclopedia