The Timeline: Saint Nicholas


3rd century: Old Saint Nick

In the same century that the Church selected 25 December as the day on which to celebrate the birth of Jesus, a Greek bishop called Nicholas of Myra acquired a reputation for kindliness to the deprived children of his home town Patara. A rich man, he gave away his entire fortune to the needy, often leaving sovereigns in the shoes which poor families had left outside their houses.

1879: Santa's gets a real job

In the latter part of the 19th century, St Nick was engaged by Lewis's department store in Liverpool to entertain children in its Christmas Fairyland. The current grotto covers a square kilometre of the store.

1927: Robber saint

A Santa impersonator raided the First National Bank in Cisco, Texas. Described as "the most spectacular crime in the history of the south west", Marshall Ratliff managed to escape with several thousand dollars, but was caught after a little girl identified him.

20th century: star of the silver screen

Santa Claus' Visit premiered in 1900 and saw Santa making the first of many trips down the chimney. St Nick was a little less benevolent in slasher-film Silent Night, Deadly Night.

1972: Top of the Pops

The most popular tribute song is the Jackson 5's rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It was the Christmas number one in December 1972 and remains a festive favourite.

1995: Raising the scarlet standard for Santa

In 1995 a gang of "America's fraternity of A-List Santas" got together and formed a union for Santas "who don't use false beards". The Amalgamated Order of Real Bearded Santas is open to anyone with the requisite facial hair and an interest in playing old St Nick. It currently has 300 members.

2010: Sleigh watching goes digital

Despite being busy with several wars, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), makes time every December to track Santa's festive movements. Following a deal with Google Maps, NORAD ensured sleigh-watchers can trace St Nick in real-time. The service does not, however, allow you to see how many mince pies he eats.

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