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The Truth About Santa Claus

December 23, 2015

The origins of Santa Claus seem mostly forgotten as our culture becomes more and more secular and mass-market oriented.  Here’s a reminder of where the jolly ole’ guy came from.

Saint Nicholas

The Santa Claus legend began with Saint Nicholas, born late in the third century A.D., to Christian parents on the Mediterranean coast of then Lycia (modern day Turkey).  When his parents died of plague while Nicholas was still a child, he went to live with his Uncle Nicholas, Abbot in Lycia. He grew in the tradition of the church and eventually became Bishop of Lycia.

Icon_c_1500_St_NicholasThere are dozens of stories of good works and miracles surrounding Bishop Nicholas, that led to his Sainthood. Stories of Bishop Nicholas warning sea captains of bad weather to come, when he was traveling with them. Even when he was elsewhere, he was said to come to them in dreams. Another story tells of the Bishop raising murdered children from the dead.  As a result, St. Nicholas was known, even in his own lifetime,  as the patron saint of sailors and children.

One story that stayed with the Santa Claus legend, involved a poor family with three daughters. Women of the time were often sold into slavery if their families could not come up with a dowry to attract a husband. So Nicholas came by at night and left gold in a stocking hanging by the fire to dry. The oldest daughter now had a dowry and was married. Bishop Nicholas visited two more times and when the father finally found out who his benefactor was, he fell on his knees to thank the Bishop. Nicholas bade him be silent and praise God instead.

In another story, Bishop Nicholas settled a legal dispute which saved three innocent people from being killed by an angry mob. Hence, “he knows if you’ve been naughty or nice”.

Father Christmas

Father Christmas is a conglomeration of various characters from the different cultures that have conquered the British Isles. At ancient Anglo mid-winter festivals, a pagan figure, representing the coming of spring, would wear a long, green hooded cloak and a wreath of holly, ivy or mistletoe, later personified in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, as the ghost of Christmas past.

Spirit of Christmas PresentWhen the Saxons conquered Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries, the Saxon Father Time, also known as King Frost or King Winter was added to the pagan legend. Someone would dress up as King Winter and visit the homes of the village, sit by the fire, eating and drinking offerings in exchange for the hope of a mild winter — a bit like the Brit’s tradition of mince pies and whisky for Father Christmas, perhaps? Later to become America’s cookies and milk.

John Leech – Christmas Past

The puritans had a problem with Father Christmas and succeeded in driving him underground for a long time, but he made a comeback during Queen Victoria’s reign. The new Father Christmas was greatly influenced by America’s Santa Claus as he appeared in Clement Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas, published anonymously in 1823 as The Night Before Christmas:‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…”

Santa Claus

Some say Santa Claus comes from Sinterklaas, the Dutch version of St. Nicholas, brought to America by the Dutch settlers to the New Amsterdam area (modern New York City). Others say Santa is descended from Father Christmas.  The truth seems to be that again we have combined folklore to come up with a new character. Part St. Nick, part Father Christmas, America’s Santa Claus has become synonymous with gift giving.

Norman Rockwell's Santa

Norman Rockwell

Belief systems mutate over time, legends grow and change.  Whichever version of the legend you subscribe to, the Avanti staff wishes you…

God Bless Us, Everyone.

—Tiny Tim, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Peace on Earth, Goodwill To Men

—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1864)

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

—Clement Clarke Moore

Though it’s been said many times, many ways, Merry Christmas to you.

—Mel Torme

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