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Why is Santa red? You asked Google – here’s the answer | Stephen Moss

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Participants dressed in Father Christmas costumes take part in the traditional Santa Claus run in Michendorf, eastern Germany. Photograph: Ralf Hirschberger/AFP/Getty Images

Santa Claus is a New Yorker of Dutch descent who emerged in the early part of the 19th century. Christmas in New York in the late 1700s was a riotous affair, and the only seasonal gift you were likely to be given was a punch on the nose. Middle-class New Yorkers fancied a more sober celebration, and in 1804 the antiquarian John Pintard founded a historical society and hit on the 4th-century St Nicholas – patron saint of children and gift-giving – as the benevolent new symbol of the city.

The date of St Nicholas’s death, 6 December 343, had been widely observed in Europe throughout the Middle Ages, and especially in the Netherlands, where to this day 5-6 December is still. Pintard took these traditions and grafted them on to the celebration of Christmas in New York, where a large part of the population was of Dutch heritage, with Sinterklaas (itself a contraction of Sint Nicolaas) emerging as Sancte Claus.

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