What Is the Difference Between Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus?

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Saint Nicholas was a Bishop who lived during the fourth century A.D. in the city of Myra, located in what is now present-day Turkey. Santa Claus is a fictional character that is based largely on the stories of Saint Nicholas. Over time, stories of the real St. Nicholas and the fictional Santa Claus merged to create folk stories where the two are one and the same.

St. Nicholas was orphaned as a teenager and used his sizable inheritance to provide gifts to people in need in his community. He was canonized for his generosity and is celebrated on the day of his death, Dec. 6. The stories of Santa Claus are built on the historical St. Nicholas. Santa Claus' red suit is an homage to the red bishop robes worn by St. Nicholas. The presents Santa Claus leaves in stockings refers back to a story of St. Nicholas where he learned of a man in his town who had three daughters and could not pay dowries for them to get married. He dropped a bag of gold for each daughter down the chimney at night. The bags fell into stockings that were drying by the fireplace, leading to the tradition of leaving stockings hanging by the fireplace to receive gifts. Santa Claus brings presents to children because St. Nicholas had an affinity for children, though the Saint was generous to everyone, not just youngsters.