Santa Claus, patron saint turned mall celebrity

Santa has shadowed purpose of Christmas, evolved far from his origins

When Christmas Eve arrives, many children will expect a visit from a round, jolly man who will shimmy down their chimneys with presents in tow. Christmas means Santa, at least for most. Although originally based on a religious figure, the modern day Santa is a far jump from the purpose of the Christian holiday.

Before he was an inflatable lawn decoration and a paid photo prop at the mall, Santa was Saint Nicholas, and according to National Geographic, the man Santa evolved from was the Bishop of Myra in modern Turkey. (Turkey? Now that’s a long way from the North Pole). The bishop was the patron saint of children and sailors in the fourth century A.D.

Although it is hard to imagine Christmas without Santa, St. Nicholas’s gift-giving took place around his feast day of Dec. 6, but he combined with Christmas over time.

Legends of his life popularized him.

One legend claims he gave money to three girls’ father, so he would not sell them into prostitution, according to the National Public Radio. Saint Nicholas was a generous, sincere man who dealt with serious topics (not quite the oversized, foolish, and cheerful modern-day Santa).

After immigrating with Europeans to North America, the bumbling, bulky, “cookies and milk” fanatic began to take shape (literally). His red suit, reindeer, girth, beard, home in the North Pole, elves, and Mrs. Claus were popularized by Clement Moore’s poem commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” according to, and artistic works by Thomas Nast.

The jolly, naive figure Santa is today is far from his St. Nicholas origins. Santa no longer has the same depth of character, genuine nature, or religious ties.

The rise in the popularity of Santa could be related to the secularization of Christmas itself.

He allows non-Christians to adopt elements of Christmas without celebrating the birth of Christ, which follows the Christian tradition.

About 81% of the non-Christian U.S. population celebrates Christmas, according to the Pew Research Center. Santa is possibly leading the way for Christmas to fall from religion and into culture.

Traditions can hold meaning regardless of history or the original purpose of the Christmas holiday. Santa can be fun for everyone, but it is important to understand his evolution. People should recognize that Christmas does not mean Santa.