Dear Kid and Tal (because she asked very nicely if I would explain this to her),
Please note that I am publishing this after Christmas so that anyone who does not wish to have his or her eyes opened has an entire year to erase this from their memory. Also, there is just too much great info about Santa to contain in one blog, so tune in tomorrow for Part II.
Once upon a time there was no such thing as Santa Claus. Then the world was invented and Santa was a byproduct of the Big Bang.
That is one explanation for Santa Claus. (I just invented it, so you know it must be true.)
There are others.
Saint Nicholas of Myra (present day Turkey) was a Greek Christian bishop in the 4th century. He was a very kind and generous soul and was famous for giving gifts to the poor. Nicholas was a wealthy person and did not want people to know where the gifts they received came from (which—as you know—is one of the higher ways of doing good works and repairing the world). As he traveled the country, he delivered gifts to the poor during the night (this is the origin of the phrase “Go to sleep, or the soon-to-be-created Santa Claus won’t come.”)
One famous story about Saint Nicholas (although I have not be able to interview eyewitnesses) is about a poor but pious man who had no money to give his three daughter as a dowry. In those days, daughters without dowries tended to be daughters unwed, and daughters unwed tended to become prostitutes. The daughters had washed their stocking and hung them up (with care) by the fire to dry. Nicholas dropped gold into the stockings and poof! the girls had dowries and the world had a legend.
A tradition sprang up (after Nicholas was dead and had become a saint) of giving children gifts on the evening of his Saint Day (December 6th). As you might imagine, this was quite a popular tradition, especially with the gift recipients. Martin Luther (among others) disapproved of the idea of such a popular interest in saints and thought the focus should be on Christ instead. He managed to move the gift giving to Christmas but St. Nick remained the Bringer of Presents.
If you will travel back with me to the time before Christianity, and if you will hop Over The Pond to Germanic Europe, and if you will look carefully, you will find Odin (remember him?) presiding over Yule time. Look a little to the left—that’s it. See his long white beard? That’s where Santa’s beard came from. And the notion of gift bringing? A little from Saint Nicholas and a little from Odin.
The stockings by the chimney story is partly where the idea of Santa sliding down the chimney came from, but only partly. Odin often visited via Chimney Express. There are other stories too, but they will just complicate the blog so you’ll have to go research them yourself if you’re sufficiently interested.
Then we have the English Father Christmas and the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas (which is Dutch for Saint Nicholas) and (see where this is going?) in an interesting stew of Odin/Saint Nicholas/Father Christmas/some good old US merchandising/and a dash of snow and poof! we have Santa Claus.
Not everyone was a fan of Santa-baby. The Puritans (who weren’t fans of anything fun) made it illegal to mention Saint Nicholas’ name, exchange gifts, light a candle, or sing Christmas carols.
There aren’t many people who miss the Puritans.
In 1917 when the Marxist-Leninist doctrine of state atheism was instituted in the Soviet Union, holiday celebrations were prohibited. Exit Santa stage left. Not a lot of people miss those days either.
Today, some people think Santa represents the Worst of All Things (commercialism, selfishness, greed). These are people who give children underwear as presents when children are expecting Anything Except Underwear. This (as you may know) is Absolutely Not OK in the Mom Book of Giving Presents to Children.
Others are HUGE fans of the Man in Red (and not just because of the gifts). Santa is male, doesn’t carry a gun, doesn’t talk down to people, is “peace, love, and joy” personified, and is still married. Also he has a twinkle in his eye.
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