He comes in the dead of night on a pack of reindeers, drops in through the chimney, packs a lot of gifts without fear. He has a jolly laugh, “ho ho ho”, a big belly “ho ho ho” and he is the face of Christmas, far and near. There is not a Christmas spent without Santa Claus, his elves, his sleigh and the slew of gifts he brings to deserving young’uns worldwide. Although Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Christ(Jesus of Nazareth), popular culture has put Santa Claus in the limelight instead. But the origins of Santa Claus are not devoid of Christian roots. Santa Claus was originally St. Nicholas, a saint from Myra (present-day Turkey) who was known for his kind and generous heart. St. Nicholas used to give gifts to the needy and the deserving, in secret. He was a saint of children and sailors; sailors— because he used to calm turbulent seas and prevent ships from wrecking by invoking the power of God through prayer. In some countries, gifts are exchanged on St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) instead of the 25th of December. The tradition of stockings filled with gifts placed by the fireplace originated from another story of St. Nicholas’ good deeds. He didn’t want the three daughters of a poor man to end up in prostitution because they did not have dowries to get married. So, one day, when the family was asleep at night, he climbed in through the chimney, hid a lump of gold in a stocking placed by the hearth to dry and climbed out. When the family awoke the next morning to their newfound wealth, they rejoiced.
When the second daughter was to be married and was in need, he repeated the same deed and yet again with the third. But by the third daughter, St. Nicholas had gotten the father extremely curious as to the identity of this benevolent benefactor. So when St. Nicholas came for the third time, the father hid himself next to the fireplace and waited. On discovering that the chimney totting gold-man was indeed our own St. Nicholas, the father rejoiced, but the saint requested him to not reveal his identity. It did spread later throughout that the secret batman of gifts around their town was St. Nicholas, skyrocketing his popularity throughout Europe. The two primary benefactors, or founders if you will, responsible for the creation of ‘Santa Claus’ as we know today were Dr. Clement Clarke Moore who authored the poem “An account of a visit from St. Nicholas” and Thomas Nast, an artist. This fictional poem by Dr. Moore encompassed St. Nicholas riding on a sleigh driven by reindeers, dropping off gifts for the good children through the chimney. However, it was in 1881 that Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist brought Santa Claus to the image he is portrayed today. The red colour, pink dimpled cheeks, jolly face and the big belly, a smoking pipe in one hand and shouldering a sack of gifts in the other, portrayed the first Santa. While the doctor and the cartoonist (both New Yorkers) created the image of present-day Santa Claus, his name originated from afar. The etymology of Santa Claus is obtained from the Dutch figure Sinterklaas.
Speaking of names, Santa Claus has several avatars, if you will, in other countries. Kriss Kringle or ChristChild is the German/Swiss; Father Christmas is the British and Pére Nôel for the French are a few examples of the counterparts of Santa Claus. Thus, brought to America by Dutch settlers and popularized by Clement Clark Moore and Thomas Nast, Santa Claus became such an iconic figure for the Americans initially, and later influenced Christmas cultures universally. So share, laugh and celebrate your Christmas every year, and when you get up to check your gift-laden socks, don’t forget the long history lane Kriss Kringle/ St. Nicholas/ Sinterklaas or Santa Claus has had to ride upon to reach this moment of the present.
Author: Krupa Sreyasi