Town Square

How St. Nicholas Evolved Into the Santa Claus of Today. Plus, Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Virginia Johnson

The historical inspirations and transformation to become the jolly holiday gift bringer we know today.

Santa Claus rides a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in New York. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP
Santa Claus rides a float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, Nov. 24, 2022, in New York.


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Town Square with Ernie Manouse airs at 3 p.m. CT. Tune in on 88.7FM, listen online or subscribe to the podcast. Join the discussion at 888-486-9677, or @townsquaretalk.

Artistic Director and founding company member of Dance Theatre of Harlem, Virginia Johnson, discusses her 40-year career in dance and the legacy of one of the most recognized ballet companies. The company is in the Houston area this week, visiting schools and providing outreach and education initiatives for local students.

Here are some of their public events. For the full list, visit

  • Many Hues, One Line: Dance Theatre Harlem dancers will join Houston Ballet dancers for a panel discussion moderated by Virginia Johnson at the Houston Ballet dance lab on December 6, 2022, from 7:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m.
  • Freedmen's Town tour: Dance Theatre of Harlem company members will take a tour of Houston's Freedmen's Town Conservancy on December 8, 2022, to learn about Houston's history.
  • Public Master class: On December 10, 2022, at Houston Ballet, intermediate and advanced dancers are invited to challenge and expand sharpen their ballet technique in a masterclass led by Dance Theatre of Harlem company members. Registration is $20 and limited to 35 pre-professional and professional dancer participants.
  • Holiday in the Tre: On December 10, 2022, Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers will attend the annual Holiday in the Tre festival at Houston's Emancipation Park, leading a workshop and offering a meet & greet for festivalgoers from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Mini performance at Wheeler Baptist Church: Dance Theatre of Harlem's last event of the Houston Residency will be a performance of their work Holy, Holy at Wheeler Baptist Church, during the 11:30 am worship service on December 11, 2022.

In the new year, Dance Theatre of Harlem performs at Jones Hall on February 3 – 4, 2023. For more information, log on to

Then, we shift topics to discuss St. Nicholas. We hear his name in Christmas songs, but who is he? What is his relationship to the modern image of Santa Claus?

Today, December 6th, is St. Nicholas Day, a day to celebrate the saint of the same name who was known for his kindness and generosity. Celebrated with parades, singing, and a hope to receive some treats in exchange for good behavior, this holiday certainly rings familiar.

We talk with an expert on how St. Nicholas inspired Santa Claus, his evolution in America over the years, and the origins for all the attributes found in the modern image of the Christmas mascot, from the red suit to the flying sleigh with reindeer.

Plus, we discuss equivalents of Santa Claus found in other countries from over the world and how their traditions compare with our take on the gift bringer.



Virginia Johnson

  • Artistic Director and Founding Company Member, Dance Theatre of Harlem

Robert Thompson

  • Director, Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture
  • Trustee Professor, Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

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