Traditions rooted in history

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 20, 2009

On behalf of the Adams County Extension Service I wish everyone in the Miss-Lou a Merry Christmas and happy holiday season.

Christmas is the time of the year when we celebrate with family and friends and tell the story about Christ’s birth. That story is pretty clear but what about the part of Christmas that tells about Santa Claus. We all know he is real but where did he come from? Today I will try to clear it up with a few short answers you can tell the children.

Q. Where did the name Santa Claus come from?

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Although some people think Santa Claus is a legendary figure, I am here to tell you he was a real person! There are numerous stories and versions about giving figures going back several centuries, but the story about St. Nicholas is probably the best known and most accepted.

His story starts back in Myra, which is now Turkey, with a boy named Nicholas who was the son of two wealthy parents. He spent his life serving God and doing good deeds for the less fortunate. St. Nicholas, as he became, also known as Sinterklaas by the Dutch, became known as a hero for children and the needy as well as being worshipped for this generosity and kindness to all. Before long, stories of his good will and giving spread throughout Europe. This turned him into a legendary figure that rewarded the good and punished the bad.

In Germany, he became known as Weihnachtsmann, in England as Father Christmas, and in France, as Pr Nol, who left small gifts in the children’s shoes.

When the immigrants came to the New World by crossing the Atlantic Ocean they brought many of their now Christmas traditions with them these included elves, giving, tree decorating and candle lighting in windows. Then in the 1600s the Dutch introduced the story Sinterklaas, St. Nicholas, to the colonies. After years of children saying Sinterklaas the name evolved into Santa Claus which was much simpler and still remains today.

Q. Why do people hang stockings for Christmas on the fireplace?

It is told that St. Nicholas heard the news of an Italian man who was in great debt. He was on the verge of having to sell one of his three daughters into slavery to be able to afford for the rest of his family. After hearing this St. Nicholas went by their house late one night and threw three bags of gold into the house.

The three daughters each had their socks drying over the mantle which was customary at the time. A bag of gold landed in each of the girls’ stockings. The story goes to say each of the girls had a good life and went on to become married. After this story circulated it became custom for kids to hang stockings over the mantle to be filled with gifts.

David Carter is the director of the Adams County Extension Service. He can be reached at 601-445-8201.