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Nice Santa or Naughty History?

Santa Claus is a man whose name needs no address. Everyone knows that he lives at the North Pole.

And as proof, for over a hundred years, the U.S. Post Office receives thousands of letters simply addressed to a Mr. Claus during the Christmas season.

But, beyond his jolly "Ho, ho, ho"'s, how much more do we actually know about this globetrotting holiday icon--besides, of course, that he's making a list and checking it twice?

Nice Claim: The legend of Santa Claus can be traced to a Turkish monastery.

Facts: The legend of Santa Claus first began in 280 A.D. with a monk named St. Nicholas. Much admired for his kindness and benevolence, Nicholas, is said to have given away all of his inheritance and became known as the protector of children and the poor.

His feast was celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6th. The night before the holiday children were to set out food for the saint and straw for his horses. The next morning obedient children awoke to find their gifts replaced with sweets and toys, while disobedient children found their offerings untouched.

Nice Claim: Americans invented the name Santa Claus.

The name Santa Claus evolved from Nicks Dutch nickname, Sinterklass. In the early 1700s Danish families that had immigrated to New York began gathering on the anniversary of his death to honor the saint. In their excitement for the holiday, English-speaking children often mispronounced the name as Sante-Claus, which eventually evolved into Santa Claus.

Naughty Claim: Santa Claus is the patron saint of New York.

Facts: In 1809 Washington Irving made his first inroads into American popular culture when he named St. Nicholas the patron saint of New York in satire, The History of New York. Irving described Santa as a jolly Dutchman who smoked a long pipe, wore baggy breaches and lay his finger beside his nose.

Nice Claim: Santa Claus was almost never created.

Facts: In 1823 American writer Clement Moore, canonized the figure of Santa in a poem, A Visit From Saint Nicholas. He was originally hesitant to publish the long poem because he thought it frivolous. But it became an instant best seller, describing in great detail the character we now recognize as the modern day Santa; a jolly old elf with a broad face and a little round belly that shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.

Naughty Claim: Coca Cola illustrated the modern day Santa Claus.

Facts: In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast illustrated the Moores poem for Harpers Weekly. The cartoon depicted as a rotund, cheerful character 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 even his wife, Mrs. Claus. In 1931, artist Haddon Sundblom added the final touches to Santas image for a series of Coca Cola advertisements. The ads feature a portly grandfatherly Santa with human proportions, a ruddy complexion and a twinkle in his eye.

Naughty Claim: Santa Claus does not have a valid address.

Facts: In 1912 the U.S. Postmaster authorized local postmasters to allow individuals to use letters addressed to Santa Claus for philanthropic purposes. Since then the post office in Fairbanks, AK has become the official North Pole, and each year the city receives hundreds of thousands of letters addressed to the roly-poly icon.

Nice Claim: The Salvation Army was among the first to dress up Santa suit.

Facts: By the early 1890s, the Salvation Army needed money to pay for the free Christmas meals they provided to needy families. Thus, they began dressing up unemployed men in Santa suits and sending them into the streets of New York to solicit donations. The familiar Salvation Army of Santa Clauses have been ringing bells on street corners in American cities ever since.

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Meet our Writer
Jennifer Geddes
Celebrations Writer

Jennifer Kelly Geddes has hosted Christmas cookie swaps, New Year's open houses, Thanksgiving for 22, and all manner of dinner parties in her Manhattan and Ghent, NY homes.

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