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

Every day millions of internet users ask Google life’s most difficult questions, big and small. Our writers answer some of the commonest queries
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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