• Jessica Cerovic

Saint Nicholas vs. Santa Claus

Updated: Dec 7, 2018

Until I met Igor, I was under the impression that Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus were the same jolly guy. I found out at the ripe old age of 24 that this was a little further from the truth than I thought. Since Saint Nicholas is December 6th, I feel it is necessary to help clear up all of the confusion and explain the differences and similarities between these two special gentlemen.

The figure:

  • Saint Nicholas (Sveti Nikola in Croatian) was born in 280 A.D. in an area that is now present day Turkey. He was a Christian bishop and is now a patron saint of children, students, sailors, merchants, archers and repentant thieves.

  • Santa Claus is a created character inspired by "St. Nick" and has been drawn in different forms by many American cartoonists beginning in the late 1800s. The name Sinter Klaas is a shortened version of how the Dutch say Saint Nicholas. The name Kris Kringle comes from the main character in the movie, Miracle on 34th Street. As time has gone by Santa Claus has been given more and more of an elaborate story by different sources with additions like Mrs. Claus, elves as his toymakers, living in the North Pole, reindeer pulling his sleigh to fly all over the world with a sack full of toys, coming down chimneys into people's homes to deliver gifts and much more.

The holiday:

  • Saint Nicholas is celebrated on December 6th and has his own day devoted entirely to himself, called Saint Nicholas Day. This day is usually accompanied with a large feast.

  • Santa Claus is celebrated on December 24th into December 25th, Christmas Eve into Christmas Day.

The look:

  • Saint Nicholas is usually depicted in a traditional religious gown with sometimes a bishop's hat and staff. He is tall and thin with gray or white hair and beard.

  • Santa Claus is usually pictured in a red and white suit and hat and a leather belt and shoes. He is heavy set and has a rose-y nose and cheeks with white hair and a big, fluffy beard.

The gift-giving:

  • In Croatia, on the night of December 5th, children polish their boots and set them on a windowsill. Through the night Saint Nicholas fills their shoes with candy and gifts and Krampus (his devilish companion) leaves branches for naughty children. The more bad the behavior, the bigger the branch. Every child gets a twig as a warning to be good. On the morning of December 6th children open their presents.

  • In American, weeks before Christmas, children may see Santa Claus and his elves to sit on his lap and tell him what they would like for Christmas. Santa may ask the child if they have been good or bad and if the child was naughty he may only get a lump of coal from Santa and no gifts. Santa and his elves are busy all year making toys for children in the North Pole. On the night of December 24th, children leave milk and cookies for Santa and maybe some carrots for his reindeer. Through the night Santa Claus and maybe some of his elves fly his sled pulled by eight reindeer all around the world. Santa leaves presents under the Christmas tree by coming down the chimney of people's houses. On the morning of December 25th children open their presents.


Whether you celebrate Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus or both, the message from either figure is very clear. Be nice not naughty, be caring toward others, think of someone other than yourself and give unto others so you may fill the hearts of others with love, peace and joy.

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