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The Evolution of Santa

CLEVELAND, Nov. 26 /PRNewswire/ -- He is an international traveler with dozens of aliases, including St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Papa Noel and Kris Kringle. He's Santa Claus, of course, and he's one of the world's most beloved secular symbols of Christmas.

According to American Greetings, the Santa Claus we know today is actually a conglomerate of many interpretations, all of which trace their origins back to St. Nicholas, the mysterious 4th century Bishop of Myra. The bishop is reputed to have performed numerous miracles. Following his death, he became known as a giver of gifts to children, visiting them on his feast day, Dec. 6.

During the 16th century Reformation in Europe, a figure called "Christmas Man" took St. Nicholas' place. In England, he was known as "Father Christmas," and in France, "Papa Noel."

When Dutch immigrants arrived in America, they brought back the tradition of St. Nicholas, whom they called "Sinterklaas." Sinterklaas became Anglicized into "Santa Claus." No longer depicted as a bishop, Santa Claus still delivered gifts, although the date was changed to Christmas Eve. The colors of red and white, formerly part of the bishop's vestments, evolved in to Santa Claus's present-day "uniform."

Blending with the legend of St. Nicholas is the German story of the Christ Child or "Christkindl," who brought gifts to children on Christmas Eve. Depicted as a child riding a mule, the Christkindl was believed to enter homes through keyholes.

When English-speaking colonists settled in Pennsylvania German communities, "Christkindl" was transformed into "Kris Kringle." By the mid 1800s, the legends of Kris Kringle, Santa Claus and St. Nicholas were intertwined.

Several Americans would contribute to Santa's evolution, including a "Harper's" illustrator named Thomas Nast, author Washington Irving and commercial artist Haddon Sunblom, who created a jolly, plump Santa in the now-famous series of 1930s Coca-Cola advertisements.

According to Chris Riddle, Christmas Creative Director at American Greetings, Santa's portrayal on Christmas cards has also changed a great deal over the years.

"During World Wars I and II, Santa often appeared in a patriotic setting," Riddle said, "and during the '60s, we offered cards showing Santa riding a rocket to the moon.

"Today, some cards feature traditional Santas while others picture the quaint, Victorian Father Christmas. We also offer cards picturing African American, Hispanic, folk art and humorous Santas."

SOURCE American Greetings
 -0- 11/26/96

/NOTE TO EDITORS: Photos available upon request./

/CONTACT: Laurie Henrichsen of American Greetings, 216-252-4943/

/American Greetings' press releases available through Company News On-Call by fax, 800-758-5804, ext. 044150, or at

/The American Greetings logo available via Wieck Photo Database, 214-392-0888/

CO: American Greetings ST: Ohio IN: REA SU:

MG-LV -- NYFNSY1 -- 4062 11/26/96 06:31 EST
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Nov 26, 1996
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