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Where Is Santa Claus Really From?

Updated on June 30, 2013

Santa Says Hi.

Santa. Or maybe a burglar in fancy dress. Check his bag, officer.
Santa. Or maybe a burglar in fancy dress. Check his bag, officer. | Source

First Of All : Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus.

Where is Santa Claus from? Well to ask that presumes that Santa Claus even exists in the first place. And to quote Chico Marx, 'You can't fool me - there is no Sanity Clause!' (It's a play on words. Ah, you had to be there. Trust me, it's funny.)

But yes, there really is a Santa Claus. The question arose in 1897, when 8-year-old Virginia asked her father if Santa Claus existed.

Like any other self-respecting, dutiful father...he dodged the question. He told her to write and ask The Sun, a New York City newspaper, which gave editor Francis Pharcellus Church an opportunity to address the topic. And over a century later, his reply is still the most reprinted editorial ever to run in any English language newspaper.

So, for all you doubters out there, in the words of Church's famous editorial: yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

But Where Is Santa Claus From?

We don't mean the North Pole, or Lapland, or any of the Scandinavian countries competing for the location. The real question here is where does the myth begin? What are the origins of Santa Claus?

Well, in 4th century Turkey, Nicholas, the Greek Christian bishop of Myra, was famed for his generosity to the poor. Canonized, St.Nicholas's name has become identified with Santa Claus.

St.Nicholas.

St.Nicholas.
St.Nicholas.

So, Grave Robbing - Good Idea, Bad Idea?

In 1087, the Italian city of Bari, determined to exploit the profitable pilgrimage industry, mounted an expedition to find the tomb of St.Nicholas and seize his remains. His reliquary was desecrated by Italian sailors, and his bones taken back to Bari where they remain today, stored in the purpose built Basilica di San Nicola, which became, and still is, a pilgrimage site. So, you know, grave robbing can get church approval sometimes, and even pay off big if you do it right. But you probably shouldn't try it. Really.

Basilica di San Nicola - Built around stolen bones.
Basilica di San Nicola - Built around stolen bones. | Source

Why Does Santa Claus Matter?

So why is Santa Claus - this particular mythical figure - so important to us? What lies behind our insistence on retaining Santa Claus in our Christmas traditions?

Well, the mere fact of his existence - and the robust good health of the myth, still active and popular in the cinema and other aspects of popular culture today - means that it serves some purpose and fills some need in our psyche. But these are waters I'm ill-equipped to navigate.

Santa Claus By Thomas Nast

Santa Claus By Thomas Nast
Santa Claus By Thomas Nast

"a fat, jolly, white-bearded man in a red coat and trousers"

Pictured as a fat, jolly, white-bearded man in a red coat and trousers, Santa Claus's image was nailed down in the public imagination when he was drawn by19th century political cartoonist Thomas Nast.

This essentially American image has survived in song, radio, television, children's books and films, which have all shaped the concept of Father Christmas, Sinterklaas and Saint Nicholas in European culture. A myth's survival, prevalence and influence is proof of its importance. Santa Claus matters, though I couldn't tell you why. But maybe Jack Bauer can find out...

Better Talk, Santa. Jack Looks Mad.

Ride That Eight Legged Horse, Odin.

Parallels can be drawn between Santa Claus and Norse god Odin, worshipped by the Germanic peoples before the advent of Christianity.

They believed Odin led the wild hunt through the sky during the Yule time, astride Sleipnir, his eight-legged horse.

Children would fill their boots with treats for Odin's horse to eat, and in return, Odin left them gifts. This handy similarity between a gift-bearing Odin astride Sleipnir, and Santa and his reindeer, meant that after St.Boniface brought Christianity to Germany the Yule celebration was easily syncretized with St. Nicholas.

The Ghost of Christmas Present.

Pictures from 17th century Britain portray Father Christmas as a jocular fat man with a beard, wearing a long, green, fur-lined robe. Representing the spirit of Christmas cheer, he later became the model for the Ghost of Christmas Present in Dickens's A Christmas Carol .

Notions of the character taken from church history and folklore - St.Nicholas and Sinterklaas - merged with Father Christmas to create the character known to us today as Santa Claus.

Why Does Santa Claus Look The Way He Does?

The things we associate with Santa Claus now - the red and white costume, the reindeer, the sleigh - originated in America, and caught on after the 1823 publication of the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, known today as The Night Before Christmas.

Many of Santa's attributes are established in this poem: Santa is pictured as a jovial fat man riding a reindeer-drawn sleigh over rooftops, coming down the chimney with a bag full of gifts.

The reindeer are named: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem, the last two later changed to the more Germanic Donner and Blitzen. It's detail like this that adds to the myth and offers other story tellers new material to work with.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.

So That's Where Santa Claus Comes From.

A 4th century Christian saint, with a dash of Odin and some spirit of Christmas cheer thrown in, the whole idea filled out by European legends and illustrated by American artists of the last hundred and fifty years or so in books and films.

So is there really a Santa Claus? Of course there is. And don't forget: He knows if you've been bad or good...

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, By Bruce Springsteen

Santa on Amazon. See Video Below For Virtual Santa Demo!

Virtual Santa- Santa in the Window- Projector Decoration Kit
Virtual Santa- Santa in the Window- Projector Decoration Kit

Freak out the whole neighbourhood with a virtual Santa in your home. Projects a lifelike image of the bearded serial gift-giver onto the window of your choice.

 

A Virtual Santa Claus In Your Window.

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