Christian History Project. This site contains the text of 12 volumes on the history of mankind over the last 2,000 years written from a 'collectively-denominational' Christian perspective.

Santa Claus |
The real Santa Claus

Santa Claus is drawn from Chapter Nine, beginning on page 236, of Volume Three, By This Sign of the twelve-volume historical series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years. If you would like to order this book please visit

Though Nicholas and Valentine have become festive saints, both suffered for their faith, Valentine paying with his life

Santa Claus - The real Santa Claus

Santa Claus - The real Santa Claus
By the early tenth century, when this Spanish medallion (above) was crafted, stories of the posthumous miracles of Nicholas had spread throughout the Christian world. At Myra on the coast of Asia Minor, the church holding his sarcophagus was a place of pilgrimage until Nicholas’s remains were removed to Bari, Italy, in the eleventh century.

Enduring legends often have obscure beginnings, founded on a few basic facts but embellished through the centuries. Such is the case of St. Valentine, who is not known ever to have written a letter of love in the shape of a heart. And St. Nicholas, who lived a holy life of charity and had a deep affection for children, did not deliver presents at Christmas. Yet throughout the Christian realm, both of these two saints, who lived within one hundred years of each other, are commemorated annually, having influenced religious and secular societies alike.

Nicholas was a fourth-century bishop of Myra (on the south coast of the future Turkey), and is honored in both Eastern and Western churches. He shared in the suffering of his era, was thrown into prison during the Diocletian persecution, and was released when Constantine freed Christians who were being punished for their beliefs.

Little else is known of Nicholas, though legend ascribes to him many miracles–he is reported to have leapt out of his mother’s womb proclaiming, “God be glorified.” It is said that he attended the Council of Nicea, although his name nowhere appears in the historical record. Three hundred years after his death, a church was built in his honor in Constantinople. He became the patron saint of numerous countries; and because of particular miracles, he is also the patron of sailors, children, merchants and pawnbrokers. He is depicted in countless paintings and carvings.

His first biography appeared in the ninth century, collecting the stories that had accumulated around him. The most influential of these stories tells of his rescuing three young women, who were to be forced into prostitution when their father could not provide a dowry. Nicholas is said to have thrown bags of gold through their window so that they could pay a ransom.

The deed, celebrated in paintings, gave rise to his fame as patron of children. In Dutch dialectal pronunciation his name, Sint Nicklaus became Sinter Klass, which in English became Santa Claus, and gifts were given children on his feast day of December 6. Dutch and other immigrants to America brought with them the tradition of gift giving; the practice, rescheduled nineteen days later, was eventually made part of the celebration of “Christ’s Mass,” or Christmas.

Nothing whatever in the life of St. Valentine suggests boxes of chocolates, cupids, pink hearts or the exchange of romantic notions. Several people named Valentine are mentioned in early martyrologies. The one representing what has become St. Valentine’s Day was a priest in Rome who assisted martyrs during the third-century persecution of Emperor Claudius II. He eventually was arrested, and having refused to renounce his faith, was beaten and beheaded.

Valentine’s feast day, on February 14, has long been linked to celebrations of early spring. The fourteenth-century poet Geoffrey Chaucer, describing the transformation of a long and dreary English winter into the joy of impending spring, followed the tradition that February 14 was the day when birds begin to pair, and wrote the couplet:

For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day

When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.

Thus the day became special for devoted couples, and for love-letter writing and the sending of tokens.

Like other Christians who have been declared saints over the centuries, Valentine and Nicholas are revered for the personal holiness they demonstrated during their lives, and Catholic Christians say they certainly went to be with God upon their deaths. They can therefore be addressed even now as eternally living persons:

“I, poor ordinary Christian, have no right to claim God’s ear; but you, glorified brother/sister, by your better obedience in this life and present proximity, would you be my intercessor?” the theologian Anselm, who was later proclaimed a saint himself, wrote in the eleventh century.

Lost amid the commercialization of both Valentine’s Day and Christmas is the fact that both of the men involved suffered for their faith, one quite probably giving his life for it.

This is the end of the Santa Claus category article drawn from Chapter Nine, beginning on page 236, of Volume Three, By This Sign. To continue reading more about Santa Claus from The Christians, Their First Two Thousand Years we suggest experiencing the rest of the book, complete with hundreds of magnificent illustrations, by ordering it at