This time of year, much of the world is concentrating on the coming Christmas Holiday. The buying of presents, the Christmas tree, excitement for the children knowing that soon, they will be opening their gifts. Not to mention the family get togethers and the comradery that often joins individuals together during this time of year where ever they are. This holiday is known for its celebrations and characters. The most colorful one no doubt is Santa Claus. So, who is he, where did he come and how did he get injected into the holiday that is suppose to celebrate the birth of Christ in Palestine some two thousands years ago?
First, should we call him Mr. Claus, Saint Nick or Nicholas, Father Christmas, Odin, Kris Kringle, or just plain Santa. Actually, all of the above would be correct.
Santa is known to be a jovial white bearded man in a red suit with black boots and spectacles, and on one night with help of elves and his reindeer, gives gifts to all the good children throughout the world. However, it will take several multinational facts from history to find the origin of Mr. Claus.
It all began a long time ago in a far away land. No, not the north Pole, but Turkey. When it was part of the Byzantien Empire. During the 4th century, some 400 years after Jesus was reported to have lived on the earth, was a Catholic bishop, living in Myra, named Nicholas. He was well known for his generosity, especially to the poor and apparently gave gifts to individuals not on one particular date, but throughout the entire year. After a few hundred years, the church made him a saint, not just for children, but for many groups such as sailors, pawnbrokers, and archers. Later he was made the patron saint of Moscow and Amsterdam.
It took additonal centuries for the modern Mr. Claus to be formed. Named after him, St. Nicholas' Day was celebrated on the evening of December 5th by giving gifts that were to be opened the next day, the 6th. The Dutch holiday Sinterklaas has much to do with the modern day identification of Santa Claus. According to the New World Encyclopedia, before the christianization of Germanic Europe, Sinterklaas was one of the most anticipated days of the year, celebrated on the evening of December 5th. It celebrated Odin, their chief god. In mythology, his qualities, not all good, were well known, such as: wisdom, deception, poetry, magic and guile and being victorious in battle. Celebrations often included animal and human sacrifices. He was never as popular as Thor, yet he still was the main God for many Germanic generations. After Christianization and with the Church's blessing, these countries along with others combined the celebrations of St. Nicholas and Odin. Even leaving some of Odin's well known attributes in tact such as:
Odin rides the rooftops on his white horse which has various names; Odin rides the sky with his grey horse Sleipnir.
Odin gives chocolate letters to children
Odin carries a staff and has mischievous helpers, who listen at chimneys to find out whether children are bad or good.
As the Middle Ages dragged on, the time of gift celebration changed. After the reformation took hold in Europe, opposition of the veneration of Saints began to gain ground. Especially at the urging of Martin Luther, it was decided to delay gift giving till the 24th or 25th of December. Of course this date coincides with another ancient holiday, Saturnalia. However this had little change on the man in red.
The finishing touches for the transition of Santa Clause as we know him today primarily took place through the 18 and 1900's through various poems, stories, pictures, and 20th century movies. The list below are some of the additions to Mr. Claus that may seem familiar:
- 1821, 'A New-year's present', a book written for five to twelve year old children, containing a poem entitled, “Old Santeclaus” which mentions an old man riding a a sleigh pulled by reindeer giving gifts to children.
- 1823, the Sentinel, in Troy New York, printed a poem that would later be called “The Night Before Christmas”, written by Clement Moore.
- 1863, The Harper's Weekly had a picture of that would eventually be the mold for the modern day Santa Claus to emerge from.
- 1886, Odin was portrayed to be a long-beared man. .
- In the 20th century, additional support for Santa followed:
- 1902, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus was written.
- 1928, marked the beginning of hanging stockings up.
Commercials including the famous Coca-Cola add which still garnish stares today. Of course, m any movies came along immortalizing Mr. Clause.
It took several hundred years and many folkloric beliefs and myths to come up with the gentleman we know as Santa Claus. Obviously, he is not mentioned in the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus. Whether one decides to tell their children that Santa delivers their gifts or not is a personal decision. Yet one can't help but remise at the thought of all the legends it took to invent this red suited sleigh riding hero, and how it takes untruths to keep him around today.