The Many Names of St. Nicholas

Who’s going to be coming down your chimney tomorrow night, sack of gifts in tow? Santa Claus? Santy? St. Nick? Or perhaps Father Christmas?

The most common name for the chap is of course Santa Claus, which comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, in turn derived from St. Nicholas. A Greek bishop working in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), he became famous for a secret habit of gift-giving. Also, because of the many miracles associated with him, he also became known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker, and it’s a shame that name hasn’t remained popular.

When I was a child, I think I mostly called him Santy, though as it got closer to Christmas Day I’d get concerned that might not take to me calling him that, maybe thinking I was being too forward in calling him by his nickname, so I’d go back to calling him Santa till I got my presents. And it worked.

Of course the most notable deviation from St. Nicholas is Father Christmas, as he’s known in the UK. Why do they call him that, in contrast to the rest of us? Father Christmas had long been a personification of Christmas in British folklore, long before modern conceptions of Santa Claus. He enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the mid-17th century after the English Civil War, when the Puritan British government under Oliver Cromwell tried to suppress traditional celebrations of Christmas. Royalist pamphleteers, in defiance of the government, adopted Father Christmas as a symbol of the good old times. As the American conception of Santa Claus began to become more popular in the UK in the 1850s, Father Christmas began to adopt many of the generous bishop’s characteristics, until soon, there were no distinctions between the two figures.

Anyway, whatever you want to call him, I hope you’ve made it onto his good list, and you don’t find a lump of coal in your stocking. Although perhaps it won’t be him bringing gifts, depending on where you’re from. For many German Catholics, and in some Latin American countries, The Christkind (Christ Child) brings gifts. In Nordic countries it’s the Christmas Gnome, though I find the idea of waking up to see him leave gifts at the end of my bed quite terrifying. In Italy, Babbo Natale comes as he does elsewhere, but good children in many regions also get gifts on the night of 5th January from Befana, a witch. Similarly in Spain, the three kings (who according to Christian belief visited Jesus and definitely went over the €5 Secret-Santa price limit with their gold, frankincense and myrrh) bring gifts on 6th January. Which is a nice way to extend the Christmas festivities (it can get boring after Christmas Day, can’t it?), so maybe we should consider some way to bring back old Twelfth Night celebrations. And invent some reason to get more gifts then too. A generous elf or something.


28 thoughts on “The Many Names of St. Nicholas

  1. Reblogged this on saywhatumean2say and commented:
    I keep my Christmas decorations up until January 5th, by my reckoning the 12th night, but when I used to really celebrate that eve…it was just with sweets and champagne and friends.

    Now, I just take down my decorations but substitute Winter for Christmas. My trees in this mostly sunny land are decorated with white lights instead of multi-lights and “Santie” is nowhere around.

    I thrive, drive, and almost survive this time of year. Thank you for an informative post. ~~dru~~

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am all for the twelve days of Christmas. We could be getting partridges in a pear tree (or something more practical, as the milking maids and leaping lords might be quite cumbersome…) But seriously, great post! As a child I always called him Santa Claus. We once got a dog on Christmas day and named him Klaus. So I like Klaus or Kris Kringle 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Although I have nothing against the idea of extending the Christmas season — as long as it doesn’t reduce us to pure gluttony. 🙂 — and gifts are always welcome, I dread the idea of giving the stores yet another reason to blast us with advertising.

    We have Boxing Day here, which means that about Dec 21st we see “HUGE BOXING DAY BLOWOUT!” posters and flyers. And lately it’s “BOXING WEEK BLOWOUT SALE starts DEC 26th.” Oh, and then there’s the “Out With the OLD—Week-long January CLEARANCE” sales.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I will always use Santa, though in my head Santa is the commercialised version, with Father Christmas the more homely, grandpa version.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s kind of how I feel too. Everyone in Ireland says Santa (or Santy when you’re very young!), but as I became more aware of the fact that Father Christmas is used in the UK, and Santa is seen as more American, I’ve begun to feel fonder about Father Christmas.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I had no idea places continued gifting into January!
    I call him Santa, but I like the idea of a Christmas gnome.
    I’ve always found it terrifying that someone actually comes into my home whilst I sleep, I’ve always struggled with that, no matter who it is

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I always felt a slight moment of shock and fear when I found my Christmas presents at the end of the bed, before I forgot that and dived in! I agree it feels weird to keep gifting into January: so many people are sick of Christmas by Boxing Day!

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  6. In Belgium we just exchange Christmas gifts to eachother. They’re not from ‘Santa Clause’ or ‘Father Christmas’ or even worse… a gnome or an elf!
    But, as in Holland, the festive month of December begins with Sinterklaas who brings toys, chocolate and sweets for the children on Dec 6th (in Holland it’s Dec 5th). He’s like our Father Christmas but he’s just a bit early 🙂
    Mind, with the commercialisation of Father Christmas, there are households in Belgium where not only Sinterklaas brings gifts but also Father Christmas, letting their children believe in all the magic that goes along with it… This can cause a lot of disbelief and tears on the children’s playgrounds 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve been talking to some people recently who divide their Christmas gifts like that, between Father Christmas and St. Nicholas! It made me vey jealous as I only ever got them from Santa Claus once! Some of them do it sensibly: toys from St. Nicholas, and serious gifts like clothes from Father Christmas :-).


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