Who Was Saint Nicholas? The Man Behind the Legend

Do you know the story behind Santa Claus, formerly known as Saint Nicholas? Tell it to your children to make it all seem more real!
Who Was Saint Nicholas? The Man Behind the Legend

Last update: 02 December, 2020

Saint Nicholas, St. Nick, Santa Claus, or just plain Santa… There are several names for the Christmas character who delivers gifts and magic on the night of December 24th. Although we know him better as Santa Claus in the United States, today we want to tell you the story that shows you the history linked to this character.

The story of Saint Nicholas

Known as Saint Nicholas of Bari in the West and Saint Nicholas of Myra in the East, he lived during the Roman Empire in 310 A.D. His parents, who were very wealthy, taught him from childhood to share everything with those who needed it most. Therefore, the value of generosity marked Saint Nicholas throughout his life.

Both died when Saint Nicolas was very young, thus leaving him with a great fortune as a legacy. So, following his principles, he donated everything to the most needy and then retired to live in a monastery. After a long period of retirement, always defending the idea of Christianity wherever he went, Saint Nicholas arrived to the city of Myra.

Who Was Saint Nicholas? The Man Behind the Legend

There, he was appointed bishop of the city, wearing red, which is the color of the suit that Santa Claus wears today. The Roman Emperor was very much against Saint Nicholas’ beliefs and faith and Christianity, so the emperor persecuted him. In fact, he put Saint Nicholas in prison for many years, but St. Nick never lost his faith.

Upon his release, he was an old man with very long white hair and a long white beard, and he believed that Christianity had ceased to exist. However, to his surprise, when he returned to Myra, the people were celebrating Christmas. In fact, Christianity was more present than ever.

This is why we all know him as a generous person that gives out presents  to Children. And we associate him with the red suit from when he was a bishop, and the physical characteristics he bore when he retuned to the city upon his release from prison.

The evolution of Saint Nicholas

In the Netherlands, the Dutch know Saint Nicholas as Sinterklaas, which is where the evolution of our current Santa Claus begins. Dutch immigrants founded New York, so they brought their traditions (including Sinterklaas) to these new lands.

Years later, several writers, poets and cartoonists started to make satires and deformations of the character, thus creating the image of Santa Claus as we know him today.

His physical characteristics, his sleigh helpers (the reindeer), and the giving of presents on Christmas Eve began to define the persona of Santa Claus.

Who Was Saint Nicholas? The Man Behind the Legend

It was in the mid-19th century when Santa Claus began to expand to other countries such as England and France. Spain also welcomed a derivation form the French Bonhomme Noël.  Until that time, Santa’s clothes were white, but with golden colors – not the red that we know today.

Finally, advertising, specifically that of the Coca-Cola company, popularized the character of Santa Claus with the colors of its brand: red and white.

As for his home address, Santa Claus has always lived in the North Pole. This Christmas tradition is the origin of the story that revolves around him.

In addition, we also know Mrs. Claus, the wooden house where they live in the middle of the snow, and the elves that make toys in the toy factory. And of course, we can’t forget about the reindeer that pull Sant’a sleigh – especially Rudolph.


It’s good to teach children these stories, because these are interesting facts that will culturally enrich our little ones. They always like to investigate and learn more about Christmas, which is, in many cases, their favorite time of year.

What’s more, it’s a good reminder for them that the story behind Saint Nicholas is about generosity and giving, not about receiving excessive amounts of gifts.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.