Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus… I am a firm believer in Santa Claus, his spirit and his unselfishness in spending his Christmas Eve travelling the world delivering presents. Face it, who would want to be flown around the world in an open sleigh, in the freezing cold just to deliver presents to good little girls and boys when he could be sitting at home before a roaring fire and drinking egg nog? To me, he represents the true nature of Christmas – giving to others and spreading the joy of the Season.
Santa Claus has always intrigued me. Where did he come from? What were his origins? I, like Jean with Joseph, had a mission: to find out the origins of the Santa Claus legends. So, I went to the Net and found more than I could possibly put in this blog. A lot came from Wikipedia and even more came from other Santa Claus sites (who knew there was so much information on the jolly old elf?). Here goes a condensed version:
Saint Nicholas was born in Para, Turkey in 270 A.D and became a Catholic Bishop of Myra. Legend has it that he was famous for his gifts to the poor. One day, upon learning that a poor Christian had no dowry for his three daughters (who would be forced into prostitution if they didn’t marry), Nicholas took a bag of gold and threw it down the chimney of the poor Christian man, giving the girls a dowry. Thus the legend of St. Nick coming down the chimney was born. Nicholas was named a saint in the 19th century.
In the Germanic lands, Odin led a great hunting party during Yule. He rode an eight-legged horse, called Slepnir through the sky on this hunt ( eight reindeer anyone?). Children would leave their boots by the fire, filled with carrots and hay. Odin would reward these good children with gifts in exchange for the food for Slepnir.
In the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, Saint Nicholas was called Sinterklaas and was aided by helpers. He gives out chocolate and spices to good children. His feast day, December 6th (the day St. Nicholas died), was the date that presents were given out. In the 16th and 17th century, the date was changed to Christmas Eve. I guess the name “Santa Claus” came from Sinterklaas.
In Britain, a figure named Father Christmas came into being somewhere around the 17th century. He was portrayed as a jolly bearded man who was dressed in a long, green robe. He was the ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dickens’s festive classic “A Christmas Carol.”
All of these legends merged in the United States. The first time the name Santa Claus appeared was in Washington Irving’s “A History of New York” where he was making fun of the Dutch in New York. Then, in 1823 a poem was published in the Troy, New York Sentinel which is known today as “The Night Before Christmas” and has been attributed to Clement Clark Moore. All the present day legends about Santa Claus came from this poem, including the sleigh and the eight tiny reindeer.
The present-day pictures of Santa Claus came from, drum roll, Coca Cola. It was an advertising campaign in the 1930s. The reason his suit is red and white (I don’t know about this because St. Nicholas wore red as a Bishop) is because those were the colors of Coke. Guess you can choose to believe this or not.
So, there you have it, the legend of Santa Claus in a nutshell. I love Santa Claus. He portrays the anticipation and the excitement of Christmas, along with the good will of the Season. When my son was younger, I got more excited than him about Santa coming on Christmas Eve. Do you have any fond memories of Santa? Do you believe?