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The Traveller's Magazine
  •   3 min read

Santa Claus is making his appearances these days in malls, at the end of holiday parades, on the front of holiday cards that come in the mail and maybe even on your own Christmas tree in the shape of an ornament. But where did this jolly old fellow really come from?

In true chicken and egg fashion, no one really knows where the legend of Santa really started but there are a few key destinations that help uncover the mystery of this jolly man dress in red being pulled by twelve magical reindeer.

Whether you know him by the name of Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas or Kris Kringle, this old bearded man comes from a legendary Dutch figure, Sinterklaas who is believed to bring toys and gifts to the homes of good children during the night on Christmas Eve. So let’s start there.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Santa Claus in Amsterdam
There is no doubt in any Dutchman’s mind that Sinterklaas, also know as “The Good Saint”, is where the English Santa Claus originates. Sinterklaas dresses in red and hands out presents on December 6th, the feast day of Saint Nicholas, but more commonly on Christmas Eve (a modern evolution). Did you know 36% of people in the Netherlands still exchange gifts on Sinterklass day, not Christmas? Here comes Sinterklaas along Amsterdam’s canals!

Bari, Italy

Of course this Dutch folktale was founded on some truth, the story of Saint Nicholas, a 4th century Greek bishop, who was famous for giving generous gifts to the poor. His holy relics were pretty much desecrated by Italian sailors but the remains of them are kept in this southern Italian city in the basilica.

  • How to visit Saint Nicholas: Fly to Bari with Ryanair for as little as £85 (departing from London)

Thomastown, Ireland

Jerpoint Abbey is a humble parish located in the Kilkenny countryside that was built in the latter half of the twelfth century. It’s known for its intricate stone carvings but even more for housing the grave of someone very famous. Not far from this site it is believed that the remains of the Saint Nicholas are buried, which Irish historians believed were moved from Bari to this remote part of Ireland.

  • How to visit Saint Nicholas: Search for cheap flights to Dublin. You’ll find the abbey 2.5km south from Thomastown on N6.

Helsinki, Finland

While Santa Claus is believed by North Americans to live in the North Pole, Father Christmas is thought to live in the mountains of Korvatunturi is the Lapland Province of Finland. Also known as Joulupukki (literally Yule Goat), this historical figure was known to dress up in a goat costume and perform for leftover food after Christmas time. Nowadays he plays the same role as Santa Claus but when it comes time for Joulupukki to deliver toys, he knocks on the front door rather than sliding down the chimney. Did you know that Joulupukki received more than 700,000 letters in 2006 from children in Finland?

Where will you be leaving cookies and warm milk out for Santa this year? What sort of Christmas Eve traditions do you celebrate?

Img: CC. Thumb: mrdos / Netherlands: iamsterdam / Bari: deborapollon / Ireland: wikicommons / Finland: wstryder

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