The Names of Santa Claus
The name Santa Claus conjures a familiar and distinct image: red suit, white beard, black boots, jolliness and gift-giving. This beloved Christmas character is known by many names, such as Saint Nick and Kris Kringle. Why so many names for Santa Claus? And what does "Santa Claus" mean anyway?
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Though the evolution of the modern Santa Claus figure has a long and complex history, the name itself came from the Dutch Sinterklaas, a variation of Sinter Niklaas meaning Saint Nicholas. When Dutch immigrants came to the United States, they brought their holiday traditions with them, including the tradition of Sinterklaas, and of giving gifts on December 6th, Saint Nicholas' Day. This Dutch name morphed into Sante Klaas and then to St. A Claus, a name that first appeared in the New York Gazette in 1773. In 1821, poet William Gilley named the jolly holiday character Santeclaus and by the mid-19th century, the name had morphed to the modern Santa Claus. Santa Claus is often shortened to Santa or Santy.
The name Kris Kringle came from the German Christkindl or Christkindlein, meaning Christ Child. Disturbed by the fact that the figure of Saint Nicholas was beginning to overshadow Jesus Christ during the Christmas season, reformer Martin Luther introduced the idea of Christkindl, spreading the story that the Christ Child leaves secret presents for children, along with a dwarf-like helper, known as Belsnickle. Once on the American tongue, Christkindl was quickly morphed into Kris Kringle, and the Saint Nicholas figure resumed dominance in the mythology.
The name Kris Kringle was popularized by the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, about a man named Kris Kringle who claims to be the "real" Santa Claus.
Father Christmas is Santa's name in Britain, and the name is sometimes used in other English-speaking countries as well. Father Christmas and Sinterklaas were originally distinct characters with different traits, but they have since merged into one jolly lovable red-suited man. The name Father Christmas has been around since the 15th century, when it was used in a carol written by Richard Smart in Devonshire. Variations such as Sir Christmas, Lord Christmas and Old Father Christmas have also been used over the years, but the name Father Christmas stood the test of time. This name has also been translated into other languages; for example, in French, Santa Claus is called Pere Noel and in Portuguese, Papai Noel, both of which translate to Father Christmas. Similar names used around the world include Ded Moroz, meaning Grandfather Frost in Russian, and Télapó, meaning Winter Father in Hungarian.
Who is Saint Nicholas anyway, and how did his name get tied up with the cookie-eating chimney slider?
In Greece, Santa Claus is known as Hagios Nikolaos, meaning Holy Nicholas or Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a third century Bishop of Myra in Greece and is considered the patron saint of children. According to legend, Nicholas secretly left bags of gold in the stockings of young women who had no dowry. This story established St. Nicholas as a gift-giver, and so the practice of giving gifts on St. Nicholas' Eve was born. Which brings us back around to Sinterklass.
The name Nicholas is Greek in origin and means "victory of the people," from nike, meaning "victory" and laos meaning "people." A fitting moniker for a gift-giving champion of the poor. Saint Nicholas is sometimes shortened to the familiar St. Nick.
OTHER NAMES FOR SANTA CLAUS
- Baba Christmas (Urdu)
- Babbo Natale (Italy)
- Bellsnickle (old American)
- Black Peter (Morocco)
- Christkindl (Austria)
- Grandfather Frost or Ded Moroz (Russia)
- Gwiazdor, meaning "star man" from the North Star (Poland)
- Joulupukki (Finland)
- Kanakaloka (Hawaii)
- Kerstman (Norway)
- Mos Craciun (Romania)
- Pere Noel (France)
- Papai Noel (Brazil & Peru)
- Sion Corn, or Chimney John (Wales)
- Shengdan Laoren (China)
OTHER SANTA-LIKE TRADITIONS
- In some countries such as Mexico and Costa Rica, the gift-giving character is El Niño Jesus.
- In some countries such as Spain and Puerto Rico, the gift-giving characters are the Three Kings of the Christmas legend: Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar.
Author: Sarena Ulibarri