Santa and Christmas

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Sinter Klaas
The Real Saint Nicholas

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Mention Christmas and people almost always mention Santa Claus. You can't get away from him. He's everywhere. The jolly old man (or elf) in the red suit is the symbol of Christmas for millions of people.

But Santa Claus wasn't always around, was he? Well, he might have been, but people didn't start talking him a lot until the 16th Century, in Holland.

The story went that Saint Nicholas, a real man who lived in what is now Turkey from A.D. 270 to 310, was really nice to children while he was alive. Every year, people would have a feast on December 6, the day he died, to remember him and his generosity.

Somewhere along the way, the story grew, until Saint Nicholas (called "Sinter Klaas" by the Dutch) would return every year on December with a big book of report cards. If you had been good, you got a present; if you had been bad, well, you didn't get a present.

In later years, many Dutch people moved to America, to New Amsterdam, which became New York. A man named Washington Irving (who also wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) wrote about many Dutch customs, including Sinter Klaas, whom he called Saint Nicholas.

In 1823, Clement C. Moore published a poem that has come to be called, "The Night Before Christmas." This poem referred to Santa as St. Nicholas and St. Nick. The poem was published again and again all over the country. Saint Nicholas became Santa Claus, and a star was born.

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David White