Christmas Trivia - Santa Claus
Why is Santa Claus also known as Saint Nicholas and Kris Kringle?
The name variations between Santa Claus, Father Christmas, St. Nicholas, and Kris Kringle suggest that there is more than one person involved in this myth.
Saint Nicholas was an actual person -- born in Greece, Nicholas became a bishop in Turkey. Nicholas was known for his generosity, and for his affection for childhood.
The Dutch word for "St. Nicholas" is "Sinterklaas," which is the short version "sint Nikolaas"-- "sinter" being "saint" and "klaas" being Nicholas. It is easy to imagine, then, how through spoken language the Dutch "Sinterklaas" became the anglicized cognate "Santa Claus," all the while referring to the same person -- St. Nicholas -- whose feast was celebrated on December 6th, which remains to this day the predominant gift-giving day in the Netherlands and Belgium.
Although St. Nicholas is a christian religious figure, he is not a biblical figure -- he lived a few centuries after the birth of Jesus. As a result, at Martin Luther's urging, some protestants in Austria and Germany sought to bring the holiday closer to the Bible, by re-naming the gift-giving character from Sinterklaas (St. Nicholas) to Christkindl (Christ child).
"Kris Kringle" is an Americanized pronunciation of Christkindl. Although Christkindl refers to the infant Jesus, Christkindl is sometimes depicted as a blonde angel.
Faced with two different visions of the gift giver, Americans seem to have adopted the name "Kris Kringle," but reattached it to the original St. Nicholas as a synonym, which is the exact opposite of what was originally intended.
In those areas that adhere to worshipping Sinterklaas on December 6th, the more popular Santa Claus is also known, but is distinguished by referring to him as "Father Christmas" or "The Christmas Man," instead of the cognate "Santa Claus." However, the in melting pot of the United States, all of the characters -- St. Nicholas, Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, and Father Christmas -- become synonyms for the same person.