Santa lives on in our hearts

Published 8:30 am Tuesday, December 16, 2014

He may be known by different names, but loved and adored by millions of children around the world no matter the title.

Whether you know him by Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, St. Nicholas (St. Nick for short), Sinter Klass, Christkind, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, or Babouschka, the legend of a kind-hearted person giving gifts is widely known. Whether you believe in that legend can only be found deep inside your heart.

As far as the American version of Santa, we can thank Episcopal minister Clement Clarke Moore for the vision we still have of this special man.

In 1822, Moore penned a poem for his three daughters entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” In it, Moore refers to Nicholas as a “right jolly old elf”, complete with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of his head.

Moore’s poem helped popularize the vision of Santa.

That vision became more popular in 1881 when political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the first likeness that matches our modern image of Santa Claus. His cartoon, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly, depicted Santa as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children. It is Nast who gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves, and his wife, Mrs. Claus.

But there are Santa-like men around the world.

Once there was a monk known as St. Nicholas. He was born in Patara (near what we now know as Turkey) in 280 AD. He was known to be very kind, and that reputation led to many legends and stories. One story involved him giving away his inherited wealth while he helped those who were sick and poor around the country. Another story is that he saved three sisters from being sold into slavery. Eventually he became known as the protector of children and sailors. He died on December 6th, and so there is now a celebration of his life on that day.

In England, Father Christmas comes down the chimney and visits homes on Christmas Eve. He leaves treats in children’s stockings. He would traditionally leave small toys and presents. Children would leave out mince pies and milk or brandy for him.

Pere Noel puts treats in the shoes of well-behaved French children. He is joined in his travels by Pere Fouettard. Pere Fouettard is the one who provides the spankings to bad children. While wooden shoes were used historically, today chocolate wooden shoes are filled with candies to commemorate the holiday. Northern France celebrates St. Nicholas Eve on December 6th, so Pere Noel visits then and on Christmas Day.

And there’s even a female version of Santa. There are several stories about Babouschka in Russia. One is that she put off traveling with the Wise Men to see the Baby Jesus, instead opting to have a party, and regretted it afterward. So she set out every year to find the baby Jesus and give Him her gifts. Instead, she does not find him and gives the gifts to the children she finds along the way. Another story is that she purposefully misled the wise men, and soon realized her sin. She places gifts at the bedsides of Russian children, hoping that one of them is the baby Jesus and that He will forgive her sins.

Whatever your belief, please take time to enjoy this most special time of the year. Share a gift, in Santa’s kind spirit, with those you love, and if you find it in your heart, give to those less fortunate. Make it a bright and happy holiday for all!

Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7207. 

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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