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Santa Claus, also known as St. Nick, Kris Kringle and Father Christmas, is known across the globe as a jolly fat bearded man sporting a red suit trimmed with white fur. On Christmas Eve Santa Claus enters the home of good children, usually via the chimney, bearing gifts of toys that his elves have been busy making all year long. Parents know Santa Claus as a symbol of the magic and joy of childhood, if not a bruise to their pocketbooks!

Despite the well-known attributes of the man named Santa Claus, he actually has a long, rich history. The western idea of Santa Claus is a combination of the European traditions of Kris Kringle, Father Christmas and the Christian Saint Nicholas.

St. Nicholas was the biggest influence on the Santa Claus we know today. St. Nicholas was a man of Greek origin born in the third century C.E. His family was very wealthy but both died in a plague. Surviving the epidemic, St. Nick took his strict Christian upbringing very seriously and devoted his life to God.

St. Nicholas rid himself of all his material possessions and set out to help the poor, the infirm, or anyone else who was suffering. Word of his generosity and kindness spread and he quickly earned the reputation of a gift giver and saint. The historical St. Nicholas died in December of 335 C.E. As often happens, stories of his good deeds became grander and grander and it is difficult to determine fact from fiction.

One popular story of St. Nicholas describes how he secretly left bags of gold to three poor women who had no dowries. In St. Nick’s time, a father could only secure the marriage of his daughters by providing a dowry to her would-be husband. If a father could not afford a dowry, his daughters would likely be sold into slavery. In order to prevent this, St. Nicholas threw the bags of gold through a window which landed in stockings left by the fire to dry. News of this deed resulted in children leaving their stockings out for St. Nicholas to fill with goodies.

The stories of St. Nicholas certainly did not die with him. In fact St. Nicholas achieved a sort of immortality as the man behind the legend of Santa Claus.

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