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How did the Santa Claus character develop?

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Quick Answer

The Santa Claus story was inspired by a monk named St. Nicolas, who appears to have been born during the late third century AD. St. Nicolas was said to have been a very generous individual who donated all of his inheritance to needy individuals. He became known as the protector of children, thus his later role as Father Christmas.

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Full Answer

St. Nicolas' good deeds earned him respect and praise. An annual feast day was celebrated in his honor on December 6th. By the time of the Renaissance, he was the among most popular saints in all of Christendom. The first mention of St. Nicolas in the United States was in 1773, when a New York paper published a story about Dutch families gathering to celebrate his memory on his death day in December. The name "Santa Claus" was derived from St. Nicolas' Dutch nickname, "Sinter Klaas."

In 1809, writer Washington Irving referred to St. Nicolas as the patron saint of New York in his book "The History of New York." Around this time, U.S. newspapers began to print images of Santa Claus in their Christmas advertisements. Around the turn of the 20th century, the Salvation Army began to dress up unemployed men in Santa costumes to collect donations. Robert May, a writer for the department store Montgomery Ward, penned the story of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, further popularizing the Santa Claus story.

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