- Holidays and Celebrations»
All About Santa!
Sure, we know this jolly old man with the flowing white beard as Santa or, more formally, I guess, Santa Claus, but who is he really? Is he a bishop or a saint, real or imaginary, Christian or agnostic, German or Turkish or American or a global citizen? Perhaps all of these? Let us explore.
From a Christian perspective, Santa Claus can be traced to Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop of the small Turkish town of Myra in the 300s A.D. Nicholas was a devout Christian noted for his generosity to the poor (from which modern Santa's gift-giving supposedly derives). Throughout portions of Eastern Europe, Saint Nick is still today rendered as a bearded bishop wearing religious robes. He is considered by many the patron saint of children, pawnbrokers(!?), and archers, as well as of several large European cities.
However, from a more secular viewpoint, Santa can also be traced to the Germanic god of Odin, with whom he seems to share many features. Odin, too, is often depicted as an aged, white-bearded figure; in heraldic poetry, he is sometimes referred to as a Yuletide figure or as 'long-beard'. He supposedly undertook journeys across the sky at Yuletide, riding a mount that leapt great distances. German children would leave treats for Odin's mount in their boots by the hearth, and would be rewarded in turn with small gifts or treats of their own for their kindness. As Christianity expanded throughout Germanic regions, these traditions associated with Odin merged with those regarding Saint Nicholas, as did the tradition of the Christmas tree.
The traditional winter season visitor that we may refer to as Santa Claus is actually known by many different names (and has many different attributes) throughout other nations of the world. The name of Santa Claus tends to prevail across much of North America and portions of Europe. It turns into Sinterklaas in the Netherlands. But Father Christmas is the preferred moniker in Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France (as Pere Noel), Portugal, Romania, Turkey, Turkmenistan, South Africa, parts of Italy, and much of South America. The jolly old elf ages further to become Grandfather Christmas in such countries as Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia and Lithuania. He morphs yet again, into Grandfather Winter or Grandfather Frost in such lands as Armenia, Bosnia, Russia and Serbia. In other places, he is known instead as Yule Man, Christmas Man or Christmas Old Man.
Yet in many parts of the world, the Santa figure is not even the sole or primary gift-giver of the winter season. There are places where gifts are bestowed instead by the Christ Child, Christkind or Christkindl (source of our Anglicized 'Kris Kringle'), such as Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Germany. Czechs, Hungarians and Mexicans look to Child Jesus or Baby Jesus, as do portions of Italy and South America. Others may instead await The Three Mage Kings, Saint Basil, Papa Noel, Saint Lucy, Tomte, Chimney John, or even La Befana, a sort of female Santa that travels by broomstick.
Apparently, the North Pole is not Santa's only home. Danes would place him in Greenland, while Norwegians believe he resides in their own land. Both Finland and Sweden also lay claim to Mr. Claus' permanent residence. But apparently, Canadians are firm in the belief that Father Christmas DOES in fact reside at the North Pole, in a region supposedly under the jurisdiction of that nation's postal service. A formal award of Canadian citizenship was offered to Santa in 2008 by the Canadian government. In a joint effort with the U.S., Canada reportedly 'tracks' Santa's journeys from the Pole each Christmas Eve with the aid of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD).
If you want to play it safe, don't settle for leaving just cookies and milk for Santa this year. Swedish children are convinced he prefers brownies, while there are those in Great Britain and Australia who feel he must have a fondness for sherry and mince pie. (WHO has a fondness for mince pie? — Anyone?) And don't forget the carrots for Santa's steeds, whether you believe them to be eight tiny reindeer (Americans), an eight-legged horse (early Germanic folks), or a Yule Goat (Nordic peoples).
And find many Little-Known Santas at rickzworld.
But no understanding of our great and symbolic holiday gift-giver would be complete without the following essential Santa Facts:
The largest Santa-Run ever held — that's a run with participating men, women, children, pets, etc. all dressed as Santa — was in Liverpool in 2006 with more than 5,000 red-and-white-attired jolly elfs jogging by. (You can track down and watch the video!)
For Santa to drop into each and every chimney worldwide on Christmas Eve, he must travel at about 600 times the peak speed of the space shuttle.
The Dutch Saint Nicholas was traditionally assisted not by elves but by hordes of Zwarte Pieten (Black Peters), each of whom had one and only one special function.
In many countries, gifts are not offered on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, but on the Saint's Day of Nicholas, December 6th.
For several weeks of early December, some Alpine youth dress up as Krampus, a companion of St. Nicholas', and frighten children with bells and chains.
The tradition of Santa Claus was brought to the Americas by the Dutch at New Amsterdam colony (now Manhattan).
Santa's huge cloth sack of toys evolved (thankfully) from its original conception as a cloth sack within which he could stuff naughty children.
Our current image of this ages-old figure was shaped most by two fairly modern artists: cartoonist Thomas Nast, who depicted Santa pretty much as we now know him as early as the 1860s, and Haddon Sundblom, who embellished that depiction for continuing Coca-Cola ads through the 1930s.
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, was created as a Montgomery Ward store promotion, and could just as easily have been named Reginald or Rollo (two additional suggestions considered by the retailer's ad people).
- Enjoy Reindeer
You might not realize it, but reindeer are worth thinking about for more than just a week or two in December.
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