The legend of jolly old SantaClaus,
or St. Nick, began with a real person: St. Nicholas.
Although he is one
of the most popular saints honored by Christians, very little is
actually known about him. He lived during the 4th century in Lycia, a
province on the southwest coast of Asia Minor.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Early Christian Origins
Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Santa Claus. He was a 4th century Christian bishop of Myra in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia,
now in Turkey. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor,
in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious
Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. In Europe (more precisely the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Germany) he is still portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes. The relics of St. Nicholas were transported to Bari in southern Italy by some enterprising Italian merchants; a basilica was constructed in 1087 to house them and the area became a pilgrimage site for the devout. Saint Nicholas became revered by many as the patron saint of seamen, merchants, archers, children, prostitutes, pharmacists, lawyers, pawnbrokers, prisoners, the city of Amsterdam, and of Russia. In Greece, Saint Nicholas is substituted for Saint Basil (Agios Vasilis in Greek), a 4th century AD bishop from Caesarea. Also, the Northern part of the Netherlands and a few villages in Flanders, Belgium, celebrate a near identical figure, Sint-Maarten.
Pre-modern representations of the gift-giver from church history and
folklore merged with the British character Father Christmas to create
the character known to Britons and Americans as Santa Claus.
Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in
Britain, and pictures of him survive from that era, portraying him as a
well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe. He
typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, and was reflected in
the "Ghost of Christmas Present" in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
The name Santa Claus is derived from Sinterklaas, the Dutch
name for the character based on St. Nicholas. He is also known there by
the name of Sint Nicolaas which explains the use of the two fairly
dissimilar names Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas or St. Nick.
In other countries, the figure of Saint Nicholas was also blended with local folklore. As an example of the still surviving pagan imagery, in Nordic countries there was the Yule Goat (Swedish julbock, Norwegian "julebukk", Danish "julebuk" Finnish joulupukki),
a somewhat startling figure with horns which delivered the presents on
Christmas Eve. A straw goat is still a common Christmas decoration in
Sweden, Norway and Finland.
In the 1840s, the Tomte or Nisse in Nordic folklore started to deliver the Christmas presents in Denmark,
but was then called the "Julenisse", dressed in gray clothes and a red
hat. By the end of the 19th century this tradition had also spread to Norway and SwedenTomte), replacing the Yule Goat. The same thing happened in Finland, but there the more human figure retained the Yule Goat name.
In the British colonies of North America and later the United States, British and Dutch versions of the gift-giver merged further. For example, in Washington Irving's History of New York,
(1809), Sinterklaas was Americanized into "Santa Claus" but lost his
bishop's apparel, and was at first pictured as a thick-bellied Dutch
sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat. Irving's book was a lampoon of the Dutch culture of New York, and much of this portrait is his joking invention.
Modern ideas of Santa Claus seemingly became canon after the publication of the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (better known today as "The Night Before Christmas") in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823.
In this poem Santa is established as a heavyset individual with eight
reindeer (who are named for the first time). Santa Claus later appeared
in various colored costumes as he gradually became amalgamated with the
figure of Father Christmas, but red soon became popular after he
appeared wearing such on an 1885 Christmas card. Still, one of the first artists to capture Santa Claus' image as we know him today was Thomas Nast, an American cartoonist of the 19th century. In 1863, a picture of Santa illustrated by Nast appeared in Harper's Weekly.
Another popularization was L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, a 1902 children's book.
Much of Santa Claus's mythos was not set in stone at the time, leaving
Baum to give his "Neclaus" (Necile's Little One) a wide variety of
immortal support, a home in the Laughing Valley of Hohaho, and ten reindeer which could not fly, but leapt in enormous, flight-like bounds. Claus's immortality
was earned, much like his title ("Santa"), decided by a vote of those
naturally immortal. Also established Claus's motives: a happy childhood
among immortals. When Ak, Master Woodsman of the World, exposes him to
the misery and poverty of children in the outside world, he strives to
find a way to bring joy into the lives of all children, and eventually
invents toys as a principal means.
Images of Santa Claus were further cemented through Haddon Sundblom's depiction of him for The Coca-Cola Company's Christmas advertising. The popularity of the image spawned urban legends
that Santa Claus was in fact invented by Coca-Cola or that Santa wears
red and white because those are the Coca-Cola colors. In fact,
Coca-Cola was not even the first soft drink company to utilize the modern image Santa Claus in its advertising – White Rock Beverages used Santa in advertisements for its ginger ale in 1923 after first using him to sell mineral water in 1915.
Even though Coca-Cola was not the first to do this, their massive
campaign was one of the main reasons for why Santa Claus ended up
depicted as wearing red and white, in contrast to the variety of
colours he wore prior to the campaign.
The image of Santa Claus as a benevolent character became reinforced with its association with charity and philanthropy, particularly organizations such as the Salvation Army. Volunteers dressed as Santa Claus typically became part of fundraising drives to aid needy families at Christmas time.
In 1889, the poet Katherine Lee Bates created a wife for Santa, Mrs. Claus, in the poem "Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride." The 1956 popular song by George Melachrino, "Mrs. Santa Claus," helped standardize and establish the character and role in the popular imagination.
In some images of the early 20th century, Santa was depicted as
personally making his toys by hand in a small workshop like a
craftsman. Eventually, the idea emerged that he had numerous elves
responsible for making the toys, but the toys were still handmade by
each individual elf working in the traditional manner.
The concept of Santa Claus continues to inspire writers and artists, such as in author Seabury Quinn's 1948 novel Roads
which draws from historical legends to tell the story of Santa and the
origins of Christmas. Other modern additions to the "mythology" of
Santa include Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the ninth and lead reindeer immortalized in a Gene Autry song, written by a Montgomery Ward copywriter.
Eight-year-old Virginia O'Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of New York's Sun, and the quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The work of veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church has since become history's most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says "If you see it in The Sun it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus? —Virginia O'Hanlon, 115 West 95th Street
Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.