Christmas is a Christian holiday celebrated around the world commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ. In the third century, efforts were made to find out the date of the Nativity, but only in the year 336 A.D. was the date of the Dec. 25 festival set in commemoration of Jesus’ birth. Pope Julius formally selected Dec. 25 as the day of Christmas in 349 A.D.
Roman Catholics, Lutherans, members of the Dutch Reformed and Anglican churches, and those of the German sects were most responsible for establishing Christmas traditions in America. Christmas customs spread with the westward expansion of the United States, and by the late 1800s, it had become firmly entrenched in American society.
Santa Claus made his first foray into American culture in the late 1700s when groups of Dutch families in New York gathered to celebrate and honor St. Nicholas on the anniversary of his death on December 6. The name Santa Claus came from St. Nicholas’ Dutch nickname, Sinter Klaas, which is short for Sint Nikolaas.
St. Nicholas was a 4th-century bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. Many stories exist about St. Nicholas’ reputation for secret gift-giving and his kind deeds helping less fortunate people. His feast day became a children’s holiday associated with giving small gifts.
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