25 Days of Christmas (23)

Monday, December 23, 2013

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Thomas Nast's 1881 illustration

Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle...all these names mean one thing to us today: Santa Claus! Today's Santa Claus travels on a sleigh pulled by nine reindeer all around the world on Christmas Eve to deliver presents to those who have been 'nice' that year. But what if I told you that this image of Santa Claus didn't even enter our minds until the 19th century when a poem called "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was published in 1823 along with an image of St. Nicholas created by political cartoonist Thomas Nast. And Santa's naughty or nice list wasn't even created until the idea was popularized by the 1934 song "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

One depiction of Saint Nicholas

So where did Santa Claus come from? Well, the Santa we know today was created through a wide variety of beliefs. One of the first versions of Santa Claus was actually derived from a real person named Saint Nicholas of Myra. He was a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop who was famous for his generous gifts to the poor. After his death, St. Nicholas became known as a patron saint to many diverse groups of people and he's also the patron saint of Amsterdam and Moscow. During the Middle Ages, on the evening before his name day of December 6th, children were given gifts in his honor. This date moved over time to the 24th and 25th of December and Saint Nicholas became known as Santa Claus.

One depiction of the god Odin

Before Christianization, the Germans celebrated a midwinter event called Yule, and with the Christianization many traditions were taken from Yuletide celebrations into modern Christmas. During this period there were many supernatural and ghostly occurrences, such as the Wild Hunt. This ghostly procession through the sky was led by the god Odin, who was depicted as an old man, with a white beard, a blue cloak and an eight-footed steed named Sleipnir, who rode through the sky and gave people gifts. It's said that the god Odin's role during Yuletide has influenced concepts of St. Nicholas.

One depiction of Father Christmas is from
the Christmas Carol (the ghost of Christmas

Father Christmas was created in the 16th century in England during the reign of Henry VIII when he was pictured as large man in green or scarlet robes lined with fur. He seemed to have the spirit of good cheer on Christmas, bringing peace and joy. The Father Christmas celebration was moved from December 6 to December 25 to coincide with Christmas Day since England no longer kept the feast day of Saint Nicholas on December 6. Today, Father Christmas is widely seen as synonymous to Santa Claus.

A screenshot from the NORAD site

It's really interesting to see all the different origins of Santa Claus and how he became the recognizable fat jolly man that we know today. So as Christmas is quickly approaching I'm sure many of you will be leaving milk and cookies for Santa tomorrow and maybe even a carrot for his reindeer. Oh and you can't forget about the NORAD tracker so you can see where Santa Claus is and when he'll reach your town. (;

Is Santa Claus seen the same way where you're from? Do you have different traditions on Christmas Eve? Let me know in the comments below! (:

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