Christmas Traditions > Santa Claus

Posted On December 22, 2009

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Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, is the American and British variant of the European folk myth of Saint Nicholas, explaining the source of Christmas presents given to children on Christmas Day.

The Japanese also observe Santa Claus in Christmas, although the holiday is different.

Conventionally, Santa Claus is portrayed as a kindly, round bellied, merry bespectacled man in a red suit trimmed with white fur, with a long white beard. On Christmas Eve, he rides in his flying sleigh, pulled by reindeer, from house to house to give presents to children. During the rest of the year, he lives at the North Pole, in Finnish Lapland, or Dalecarlia in Sweden (traditions vary) together with his wife, Mrs. Claus, and his elves who serve as his toy production staff.

Traditionally, the names of his reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Rudolph, ‘the red-nosed reindeer’, was not one of the original reindeer, but has featured in many modern aspects of the Santa Claus legend, including the song of the same name.

The modern Santa Claus is a composite character, made up from the merging of two quite separate figures. The first of these is Saint Nicholas, a bishop of Myra in Byzantine Anatolia, famous for generous gifts to the poor. In Europe he is still portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes.

The second character is Father Christmas, which remains the British name for Santa Claus. Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 1600s in Britain, and pictures survive of him from that era, portrayed as a well-nourished bearded man, dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe. He typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, and is reflected in the ‘Spirit of Christmas Present’ in Charles Dickens famous story, A Christmas Carol’.

When the Dutch still owned the land that later became New York, they brought the Saint Nicholas’ Eve legend with them to the Americas, however without the red mantle and other symbols. Note that in Dutch, the feast is called ‘Sinterklaas feest’, it celebrates the birthday of sinterklaas during Sinterklaasavond [“Sinterklaas’s evening”] December 5th or in Belgium at December 6th. Sinterklaas was Americanized to Santa Claus, but lost his bishop’s apparel, and was at first pictured as a thick bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat.

Santa Claus appeared in various colored costumes, as he gradually became amalgamated with the figure of Father Christmas, but red soon became popular after he appeared wearing such on an 1885 Christmas card. The horse was converted to reindeers and a sleigh. In an attempt to move the origin of the festivities away from their pagan background to a more Christian one, the date was moved a few weeks to the celebrated day of the birth of Jesus, Christmas.

Santa’s image was further modernized by the Coca-Cola Company, who at the turn of the 20th century featured the character in a variety of advertising campaigns. These campaigns helped establish a “uniform” Santa character, whereas prior to this his appearance and costume had varied from artist to artist.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, has been immortalized in a song which is frequently played at Christmas. The other names, outside Rudolph, were invented in a poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas, better known today as The Night Before Christmas, ascribed to Clement Moore, although there is some question as to his authorship. It is suspected that the names Donner and Blitzen come from the German phrase Donner und Blitze which means Thunder and Lightning. An alternative explanation is that Donder is the original name of the seventh reindeer, as Donder en bliksem is Dutch for Thunder and Lightning. The reindeer are traditionally pictured with antlers, although male reindeer shed their antlers in the winter. Female reindeer keep their antlers until spring.

Many Christian churches dislike the secular focus on Santa and the materialist focus that present-giving gives to the holiday. They would prefer that focus be given to the birth of Jesus, their nominal reason for the Christmas celebration. It should be noted that the festivities at this time of year are predated by the pagan Yule festivals which were subsumed within Christianity. A history of Santa Claus was written by L. Frank Baum, the same man who wrote the Wizard of Oz. However, the historical basis for Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas of Myra.

Historically, one of the first artists to capture Santa Claus’ image as we know him today was Thomas Nast, a cartoonist of the 19th century. In 1862, a picture of Santa appeared in Harper’s Weekly by Nast. It is believed the inspiration for his image came from a mythical German character called Pelznickel (Furry Nicholas) who visited mischevious children in their sleep. The Coca-Cola Company featured in its advertising a Santa Claus designed by artist Haddon Sundblom, which helped to popularize the design of Santa that Moore and Nast originated. Urban legend has it that Santa Claus in his current guise was in fact created by Coca-Cola, though this is highly unlikely. To this day, Santa Claus still appears on Coca-Cola products each year around Christmas time.

In addition, the depiction of Santa at the North Pole also reflected toward the popular opinion about industry. In early images in the early 1900s, Santa was depicted as personally making his toys by hand in a small workshop like a craftsman. Eventually, the image changed to the idea that he had numerous elves responsible for making the toys, but the toys were still handmade by each individual elf working in the traditional manner.

By the end of the century, the reality of mass mechanized production became more fully accepted by the Western public. That shift was reflected in the modern depiction of Santa’s residence which is often humorously depicted as a fully mechanized production facility equipped with the latest manufacturing technology overseen by the elves with Santa and Mrs. Claus as managers. Many TV commercials reflect this depiction with humorous business with the elves as a sometimes michieviously disgruntled workforce cracking jokes and pulling pranks on the boss.

UPDATE > the tradition of Saint Nicholas

Patron Saint of children and sailors, Saint Nicholas was a 4th-century bishop from Myra in Asia Minor. He was famous for giving gifts to children. His feast day, December 6, became a children’s holiday in Holland, where he is known as Sint Nikolaas. English colonists in New York (previously the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam) called him “Santa Claus” because they couldn’t pronounce the Dutch name. The English began celebrating the feast day on Christmas.

Saint Nicholas of Myra

Kriss Kringle, another name for Santa Claus, developed in Germany around 1600. German Protestants recognized December 25, the birth of the Christ child, Christkindl, as the time to give gifts. “Christkindl” evolved into “Kriss Kringle.”

In the Netherlands and Germany, the Santa Claus figure often rode through the sky on a horse to deliver presents to children. He often wore a bishop’s robes and was sometimes accompanied by Black Peter, an elf who whipped naughty children. In addition to the tradition of Saint Nicholas, the three Wise Men gave gifts to the baby Jesus, starting the Christmas gift tradition.

Santa Claus the globetrotter

Ever wondered exactly where Santa Claus is on his globetrotting, gift giving mission?

Well, NORAD’s Santa tracker allows you to pinpoint the man himself, wherever on earth he and his sledge team may be.

Santa Claus the Globetrotter

On Christmas Eve, using a combination of radar, satellites, ‘Santa Cams’ and fighter jets, NORAD monitors its systems continuously for indications that Santa Claus has left the North Pole and creates a detailed report of Santa’s flight paths for all to enjoy.

A fun, family way to see how close Santa is to your home come Christmas, you can even track his flight across the globe on Google Earth.

Enjoy monitoring Santa’s movements and have a Merry Christmas!

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Who is Santa Claus?

Georgian Santa Claus > Georgian Santa Claus look-alike figure is called “Tovlis Babua”. His name can be translated as ‘Snow Grandfather.’ Georgians took their New Year celebrity from the traditions of a Russian “Ded Moroz”. The character came from the Russian folk fairy tale “Morozko”, which is about an unkind old man, who had a big wooden staff that could turn everybody and everything into ice. According to the legends during the Winter Solstice this figure had to be appeased. The sacrifice was a young virgin, who had to be wrapped to the tree and left to freeze. If she froze during the day, the sacrifice was supposed to be accepted. The sack of Ded Moroz was initially intended for collecting the offerings. With his wooden staff the evil character beat disobedient children or frightened them with scary tales.

The present image of a Snow Grandfather as a kind generous character was formed only in 1840 in the tale called “Moroz Ivanovich”, written by a Russian writer Vladimir Odoevski. After awhile the Snow Grandfather became a welcomed guest for New Years celebrations, he was believed to be married to the Spring and had a granddaughter called Snegurochka (Georgian Pipkia). Before the revolution bourgeois classes used to decorate a big New Year tree for their children. Since 1927 the Fir tree and Ded Moroz were forbidden by communist authorities, as it was believed to be the remainder of the religious beliefs and superstitions. Only in 1935 the life in Soviet Union was “officially” acknowledged to become “better and lighter” and the Fir Tree and Grandfather with his Snegurochka were allowed.

Every parent wishes to make the New Year celebration unforgettable for their child. And what can be more exciting than a Santa Claus with his funny group of helpers? Lots of Georgian agencies offer their services to make your children happy on New Year’s Eve. Such famous children centers as Jumpao (28 54 92), Amitis (899 17 33 13), Funny Day (95 99 07), Carol and Pepi is not the whole list of the places where you can order your Santa.

The prices for the pleasant surprise vary depending on your place of living, Santa’s program, gifts and the number of his helpers. The performances cost in average from 30 to 100 lari. Organizers of the holiday night celebration offer the following advice: “If your child is too small and very sensitive it is better to order for him/her a Santa Claus instead of Georgian Tovlis Babua. That is because babies are afraid of the Grandfather’s wooden staff and big sac, while Santa is always more simple and jolly.”

The figure of Santa Claus has a very interesting history. Below is some information taken from different web sites describing the history of this jolly red figure.

From Sinter Klaas to Santa Claus > from the Dutch origin of the old fellow to his current residence in Korvatunturi, Finnish Lapland >Santa Claus is the most famous of all the figures associated with Christmas. We generally know him for being a fat, jolly man with a white beard, dressed in a red suit, and driving a sleigh full of presents which is drawn through the air by eight reindeers.

Although Santa has always been an essential part of the Christmas celebration, the modern image of Santa did not develop until well into the 19th century: Santa Claus was an evolutionary creation, born by the fusion of two religious characters, St. Nicholas from the Netherlands and Christkindl from Germany.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, children in the Netherlands put their shoes by the fireplace for Sinter Klaas (Saint Nicholas), a bishop who lived in the 4th century and was known for bringing gifts to the poor. According to the Dutch tradition, every 5th of December Sinter Klaas would fly from rooftop to rooftop on his white horse while dropping sweets down the chimney into the children’s shoes. In Germany the similar tradition of the Christkindl (Christ Child) was celebrated on the 25th of December.

The story of Sinter Klaas was brought to New Amsterdam (the original name of New York) by Dutch settlers in North America, where Sinter Klaas’ name changed into “Santa Claus”.

In the 1860s German-American cartoonist Thomas Nast popularized the modern image of Santa as our fat, jolly man with a white beard. Some years later, in the 1930s, Scandinavian-American artist Haddon Sundblom painted a Santa Claus dressed in a red suit for a Coca-Cola Christmas advertisement. From there on, the modern image of Santa Claus started to spread across the world.

The tradition of Santa Claus has remained particularly strong in the Nordic countries. In Christmas time, a traditional character known as the Yule Goat or Julbock visited the Scandinavian homes dressed with a goat disguise. The Yule Goat liked to sing and dance, and families offered him drink and food in exchange for his entertainment.

During the 19th century the Yule Goat started to change into the modern Santa Claus who visited homes to give Christmas gifts. The goat disguise was abandoned and the jolly man in red took his place, but the Yule Goat was never forgotten. You can still see the ancient Yule Goat in every Scandinavian home as a traditional decorative item on Christmas trees, gardens and dinner tables.

Among all the Nordic countries, the tradition of Santa Claus is particularly strong in Finland. In the late 1920s it was believed that Santa Claus lived on the remote Korvatunturi Mountains, in Finnish Lapland. Subsequently, in 1985 a permanent Santa Claus office was established in Korvatunturi, so anyone can meet the jolly old fellow and his elves in the Santa Claus Park, where Santa gladly discusses about children’s Christmas wishes.

The British believe that Santa comes to England first and leaves them the biggest presents. He lives in the North Pole and rides around in a sleigh, slipping down chimneys and leaving presents under the tree. The Scottish, on the other hand, complain that they get all the leftovers….

There is a Santa look-alike in Holland, but he is actually St. Nicholas, the former bishop of Turkey. He rides a white horse and arrives on a boat, and instead of elves, he is accompanied by six to eight black men.

The children of Greece sing carols and enjoy sweets while fending off the Kalikantzaroi, goblins from the center of the earth who come down the chimney to cause mischief.

At the same time there are plenty of Santa-forsaken corners of the world, like Venezuela where Baby Jesus delivers the presents, while in Germany they await the arrival of the Christmas Angel.

Enjoying a jolly holly-day

What are your family Christmas traditions? Sixpences in the pudding? Snoozing afer dinner? Every home has its own favourites. But there are some Christmas traditions we all share, and while some go back centuries, there are others which are more recent than you might think.

Take the tradition of bringing greenery into the home during the darkest months of the year. This harks back to pagan times. For ancient people Christmas marked the turning of the year and the hope of spring and evergreen branches symbolised fertility and the renewal of life.

That explains our holly and ivy, the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe goes all the way back to Druid beliefs about eternal life symbolised by the mistletoe, which grew on their sacred oak tree. But the most common greenery we bring into our homes at Christmas is the Christmas tree, as traditions go it is a very new practice indeed.

We owe our Christmas tree to a famous love affair, the passion of Queen Victoria for her German husband, Prince Albert. Together, the two dreamed up a new vision of solid family life which would revolutionise the way their subjects lived and which still affects us today. And one of their first targets for a revamp was Christmas. Christmas before Victoria was a wild affair which dated back to pagan times.

The fun was presided over by the Lord of Misrule, full of lewd and naughty pranks, and usually strictly for the grown-ups. Stern Victoria, a family woman through and through, disapproved of this uncontrolled revelry. So she and Prince Albert cooked up a new-style celebration more in keeping with the strict values and morals they wished their society to follow. Out went the boozy Lord of Misrule, but Victoria did borrow some of the best pagan traditions.

Greenery, for instance, has been brought into our homes since pagan times. Victorians adopted them with a vengeance. As well as swags and wreaths, they embraced the idea of Christmas trees with enthusiasm. This was a tradition brought from Albert’s homeland of Germany, where trees were once worshipped. When Christianity came along the ancient Germans were still anxious not to offend the tree spirits, and so they brought them into their homes for the celebrations.

Victoria loved Christmas trees, especially bedecked with candles, which were first introduced in the 17th-century to symbolise the starlit sky on the night of the nativity. Before that, they were hung with paper roses and apples to honour Mary. Christmas trees had been a Royal favourite for many years, but led by Victoria and Albert the general population adopted them.

The Royals loved them to extremes, the royal children had one, and so did the ladies in waiting. Victoria wrote a card for each member of the Royal Household to hang on yet another. Victoria, her mother and her husband each had one to themselves, hung with candles, toffees and gingerbread.

No baubles, however, they did not come along until 1870 from Bohemia, where they were said to ward off the evil eye. The family even had them on the dinner table, thanks to a new trend for serving the dinner in dishes for guests to help themselves; this left plenty of room for festive decorations on the table itself and remains with us as a tradition today.

Feasting has been a tradition at Christmas time since pagan days, designed to ward off the harsh winter conditions and bring back the good times. Rich people would have perhaps decked their table with a boar’s head until the start of the last century, when it was replaced by a goose. Turkeys came along in Victoria’s time, and as they were imported from America they were at first a luxury only the very wealthy could afford. The plum pudding we know today also became popular in Victoria’s time, replacing an earlier plum porridge which was once served with the meat course.

And as for one tradition, we have taken it further than any generation before us. Christmas gifts were once only available to people with money, poor children might get a hand-made doll or wooden toy if they were lucky.

And as for that jolly bloke with the red suit who climbs down chimneys, he is very recent indeed. Although Santa is based on St Nicholas, Siner Klaas, a bishop brought to America by Dutch people, today’s version was invented by Thomas Nast in a Christmas cartoon in the American magazine Harper’s Weekly in 1863.

St. Nicholas Festivals

Posted On November 24, 2006

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St. Nicholas is celebrated though several different kinds of festivals.

Many cities and villages hold parades in November to mark St. Nicholas’ arrival for the season. Amsterdam is a prominent example of a parade for Sinterklaas’ arrival.

St. Nicholas’ Eve and Day are observed in various ways, most of which are smaller and more family centered.

Each year in May, Bari, Italy, hosts a huge religious folk festival to commemorate the bringing of St. Nicholas’ remains to Bari from Myra. This important festival is one-of-a-kind.

St. Nicholas is patron of many things and places. Nowhere is he more beloved than in the Lorraine region of France where St. Nicolas-de-Port provides an example of a splendid patronal festival.

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The true story of Santa Claus?

Posted On November 24, 2006

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The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara.

At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering.

He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals, murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day.

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A Story about Santa Claus

As we are all aware, the genuine Santa Claus has always lived far, far away at Korvatunturi in Finnish Lapland. There he has his secretive home and workshops as well as the gift storehouse and many, many other buildings.

The extraordinary thing about this is that the road to Korvatunturi is only known by Santa Claus himself, his elves and of course his trusted reindeer. When looking on a map one can easily find the location of Korvatunturi (483 metres high).

Korvatunturi is a mysterious place where the elves can listen to the children as well as the adults to hear whether they are being good or bad. The elves listen carefully to everyone’s undertakings and write their observations into the huge notebooks. Generally they record only positive observations in the books, but if necessary they will also note down tantrums, grumbling and spiteful behavior, which from time to time can accidentally happen. Especially before Christmas, the elves are known to move about the homes and in the neighborhoods of children making close observations about the children’s behavior and their kindness.

Just before Christmas, Santa Claus examines all the comments in the huge notebooks and carefully chooses delightful gifts for all the kind and good children. In the case there is a note on misbehavior, Santa Claus may also arrive with his disapproval. Happily in the past few years there have been fewer and fewer of these incidents because most children have been good.

Are you aware that in Finland, Santa’s home country, he personally delivers all the gifts to the kind children? As he arrives in the home he always asks the confirming question: “Ho, Ho, Ho, are there any nice children here?” The children often sing a short song to Santa and also promise to be good the following year. (Read More)