Thursday, December 11, 2008
History of Santa
1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, with Clement Clarke Moore, helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.
Santa Claus, aka Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or simply "Santa", is the figure who, in most of Western cultures as man bringing gifts on Christmas Eve.
The modern depiction of Santa Claus as a plump, jolly man wearing a red coat and trousers with white cuffs and collar, and black leather belt and boots, became popular in the United States in the 19th century.
One legend associated with Santa says that he lives in the far north, in a land of perpetual snow. The American version of Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, while Father Christmas is said to reside in Lapland. Other details include: that he is married and lives with Mrs. Claus; that he makes a list of children who have been bad or good.
Santa travels full of presents with his flying reindeer who pull his sleigh.
Early Christian origins
A medieval fresco depicting St Nicholas from the Boyana Church, near Sofia, Bulgaria.
Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Santa Claus. He was a 4th-century Greek 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.
Influence of Germanic paganism and folklore
An 1886 depiction of the indigenous Germanic god Odin by Georg von Rosen
Numerous parallels have been drawn between Santa Claus and the figure of Odin, a major god amongst the Germanic peoples prior to their Christianization.
Odin was sometimes recorded, at the native Germanic holiday of Yule, as leading a great hunting party through the sky. Two books from Iceland, the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, describe Odin as riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir that could leap great distances, giving rise to comparisons to Santa Claus's reindeer.
Children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar, near the chimney for Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir's food with gifts or candy.
This practice in turn came to the United States through the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam prior to the British seizure in the 17th century, and evolved into the hanging of socks or stockings at the fireplace. In many regions of Austria and former Austro-Hungarian Italy (Friuli, city of Trieste) children are given sweets and gifts on Saint Nicholas's Day.
Sinterklaas (also called Sint-Nicolaas or De Goedheiligman in Dutch [pronunciation (help·info)]) and Saint Nicolas in French) is a traditional holiday figure in the Netherlands, Aruba, Netherlands Antilles and Belgium, celebrated every year on Saint Nicholas' eve (December 5) or, in Belgium, on the morning of December 6. The feast celebrates the name day of Saint Nicholas, patron saint of, among other things, children.
Sinterklaas is the basis for the North American figure of Santa Claus.
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