One of the most identifiable characters around the world, the man in the big red suit is known by many names. Whether you call him Santa Claus, Saint Nick or even Father Christmas, this jolly fellow is said to inhabit one of the most dazzling icy terrains on the globe, the Arctic Circle’s North Pole. However, Santa wasn’t always the bearded grandfatherly figure we know and love today. We’re taking a step back in time to discover how the legend of Saint Nick came to be.

Who was Saint Nicholas?

The story of Santa Claus began all the way back in the third century, when Saint Nicholas was born in the Greek town of Patara in modern-day Turkey. This stoic supporter of the church is said to have used his inheritance to help those in need. He became the bishop of the Roman town of Myra, where he gained a reputation for his generosity and concern for children’s well-being. However, he was also persecuted for his faith under the rule of the Emperor Diocletian, and spent many years in prison before he was released thanks to the acts of Emperor Constantine. Even following his death on December 6, 343, the legend of Saint Nicholas lived on, with a memorial day established on the anniversary of his passing. Since then, many legends and miracles were associated with the saint, both during his lifetime and even in death, when he was said to have appeared in visions to people in distress.



How did Saint Nicholas become Santa Claus?

While the legend of Saint Nicholas lived on sporadically in Europe, a description of the man in a closer guise to our modern Santa Claus appeared in the 1809 publication of Knickerbocker’s History of New York, written by American author Washington Irving. Irving alluded to the saint as a jolly man with a clay pipe who brought gifts to good children, an imagination that colluded with the celebration of ‘Sinterklaas’ by Dutch emigrants in the New Netherlands colony in the States. The phenomenon grew from there, with Clement Clarke Moore writing the famous Night Before Christmas in 1822, where Santa Claus was furnished with a flying sleigh and eight reindeer. However, there was little solidarity on the costume and appearance of Santa until the late 1800s, as reported by National Geographic. With the popularity of Santa Claus amongst children, it was decided that Santa would live cosseted away in the frosty North Pole, wearing his red garb fringed with white fur, an image encouraged by cartoonist Thomas Nast. You can experience the magic of Santa Claus’ fabled Arctic home for yourself on Aurora Expeditions’ Jewels of the Arctic experience. You’ll venture into the waters surrounding Spitsbergen and Greenland, witnessing the majesty of the surrounding fjords, mountains and ice formations on one of our Arctic expedition cruises led by our expedition team.


If you are interested in a small-ship adventure to the Arctic, view our Arctic itineraries.


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