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 lost his reindeer

Posted On December 17, 2009

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Santa Claus is in trouble with the law in one western Wisconsin city, US.

Police in Sparta city, Wisconsin, said they cited a man dressed as Santa after witnesses told officers he stumbled out of a vehicle, approached several children playing in a yard, hugged them and demanded to know the whereabouts of his reindeer.

The man was cited for open intoxicants. The driver of the car in which he was riding was arrested for drunken driving.

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!

Related Links > http://www.noradsanta.org

Santa not delivering gifts

Police were called in to prevent a clergyman dressed as Father Christmas from delivering presents to children at an asylum centre.

The Rev Canon James Rosenthal, dressed in a red robe with a long white beard, was refused entry by guards at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire, UK.

After a stand-off, security guards called the police to remove Mr Rosenthal who is the Anglican Church’s leading expert on Saint Nicholas, reports the British newspaper Daily Telegraph.

Mr Rosental said he was “extremely disappointed” that 35 boys and girls at the centre were denied a pre-arranged visit by the patron Saint of children and the imprisoned.

“Saint Nicholas has never been turned away from anywhere before. So I was extremely disappointed not to be able to hand deliver the gifts to the children detained at Yarl’s Wood,” he said.

Serco, a private security company that operates Yarl’s Wood, referred questions to the Home Office. A spokesman said only people subject to stringent security checks can be allowed into the detention centre and there can be no exceptions.

Mr Rosental was accompanied on the trip earlier this month by the Rev Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, canon theologian at Westminster Abbey. He said: “This was about bringing a moment of joy to kids locked up in a deplorable situation. I can’t help but contrast the smiles and wonderment on the faces of the children Saint Nicholas visited at a local primary school with the sad fate of those kids who will be locked up in Yarl’s Wood over Christmas.”

The £300 worth of presents, donated by churchgoers, were eventually loaded into an unmarked van by security guards.

Finland, the real home of Santa Claus

Promoting itself as the “real home of Santa Claus,” Finland celebrates Christmas with markets, festivities and traditions, all culminating on Christmas Eve with a taking of the sauna, enjoyment of Christmas treats and gatherings with friends and family, and a visit by Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, or Joulupukki in Finnish, is known to reside in northeastern Lapland, on the Korvatunturi Fell. Legend states that the Korvatunturi Fell is shaped like an ear, allowing Santa to hear the wishes of children from around the world. Korvatunturi is “home base” for Santa’s travels above the Arctic Circle.

Santa Claus’ Office is in Santa Claus’ Village on the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. The nearest town, Rovaniemi, is 8 km away. (Highway 4 north of Rovaniemi).

Santa Claus Village, open throughout the year with free admission, is home to Santa Claus’s Office where visitors can meet Santa, visit his Main Post Office and observe the flurry of the festive season. Cards, letters and parcels sent from Santa Claus’ Main Post Office are stamped with a unique Arctic Circle postmark. Through the years Finland’s Santa Claus has received more than 18 million letters. Each year he receives more than 600,000 letters from more than 150 countries. More info at >  www.santaclausvillage.info

Santa’s Park is a fantasy world inside an underground cave where “elves” work all year in preparation for Christmas. Guests can bake and decorate gingerbread in the Gingerbread Kitchen, learn elf skills in Elf School, or make Christmas decorations in the Elf Workshop. Santa Park’s Sleigh Ride takes guests through four seasons of Finland to the elves’ toy factory where presents for Christmas are made. Entrance is 20 euro for children and 25 euro for adults through January 10. More info at >  www.santapark.com

According to the Finnish tradition, Christmas is brought to the homes by St. Thomas on December 21 (St. Thomas Day) and is taken away by St. Knut on January 13. St. Thomas markets prepare for the December 21 celebration, selling handmade Christmas decorations, ornaments, handicrafts, gifts, and treats such as gingerbread and hot mulled wine, Glögi, a warming combination of wine, spices and fruit. The St. Thomas Market in Helsinki, in Esplanade Park, is the largest Christmas market in Finland with approximately 150 vendors. On weekends, entertainment includes a Finnish Christmas pageant and a visit by Santa Claus. The market is open daily from December 7 to 20. In Turku the Christmas Fair is open on weekends through December 25. More info at > www.visitfinland.com

Christmas and winter activities in Finland

The Finnish Tourist Board is promoting Lapland as a Christmas Wonderland with a series of five to eight-day packages.

The packages include Continental Journeys’ six-day air-inclusive “Christmas in Lapland-Rovaniemi” departing New York on December 22. The package includes plenty of activities such as a snowmobile safari, a magical forest walk with Santa’s helpers, visit to a reindeer farm, Santa’s Workshop and Santa’s Park, a snow carnival and ice fishing. Included are tourist-class hotels, upgradeable to superior and first class hotels, most meals, daily sauna, hotel taxes and service charges. Add-on gateways and additional nights are available. Info at > www.continentaljourneys.com

Five Stars of Scandinavia’s five-day Rovaniemi land-only package, has three departures December 16, 23 and 30. Participants earn a reindeer driving license, learn about reindeer herding, take a husky safari and a snowmobile safari, and visit Santa Claus Village to meet Santa Claus. Included are four nights’ hotel accommodations, four dinners and breakfast daily, daily sauna use, all equipment and special winter gear, and hotel taxes and service charges. Info at > www.5stars-of-scandinavia.com

A fully escorted, eight-day upscale tour from Maupintour spends two nights exploring Helsinki and four in Rovaniemi, all in deluxe hotels. In Lapland, an icebreaker cruise kicks off the stay in Kemi, followed by a visit to Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi and a reindeer farm, activities such as a snowmobile safari, a toboggan run, snow-shoeing and ice fishing. The December 20 departure includes all excursions, six nights accommodations, most meals, daily sauna use, and escort. Info at > www.maupintour.com.

The Finnish Tourist Board at > www.finlandkingsroad.com

Helsinki’s Ylläs-Halli Center for Winter Activities offers a year-round locale where visitors can train or try out various winter sports such as biathlon, curling, ice skating, sledging, ice wall climbing or snow-tubing. To create a Ylläs Lapland feeling, the arena provides a “snowy” environment with walls covered with huge images of Lapland, ice bears and winter imagery, plus real trees. Included are a 1.2-kilometer cross-country ski track, with terrain options for beginners to advanced skiers, plus a supervised area where young visitors can practice sports. To minimize environmental impact, the arena produces its own energy in an environmentally friendly way. The arena utilizes geothermal heat, solar energy and wind power according to its own strict energy and environmental program. Info at > www.yllas-halli.fi

The Kannisto Domestic Animal Farm offers an unusual experience for families or anyone who would like to spend Christmas on a genuine farm. The holiday program starts Christmas Eve with a stables tour to meet the farm animals. Guests will hear stories about the life in the countryside followed by a traditional smoke sauna. The evening continues with a Christmas Feast and a visit by Santa Claus. On Christmas Day, the program includes cart or sledge riding, horseback riding or a walk to rocky Leikkilinna Mountain, and caroling. Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, gives guests traditional holiday pastry and time to experience outdoor activities and take care of the farm animals. Prices for the Christmas Holiday package are 280 euros per adult, 140 euros per child 7 to 14 years old, 70 euros per child 2 to 6 years old, and children under 2 years old are free. Included are accommodations for three nights with all meals, saunas, nature excursions, cart or sledge riding and Santa Claus’s visit. Info at > www.kannistontila.fi

Usually, Finland’s legendary Moomin trolls hibernate during the coldest months, but this year the magic of the season awakens the Moomin family from their winter’s sleep. Moomin Valley features skating and sledding, guests can meet the Moomin family and have lunch at Moomin Mama’s Kitchen, enjoy snacks in a Finnish cabin, and visit the Moominhouse. Moominworld, a theme park for children and families based on the books of Finnish artist and storyteller Tove Jansson, is open February 20 to 28. The park is located on the southwest coast of Finland on a small island facing the old town of Naantali, just 10 miles from Turku and a couple hours’ drive from Helsinki, Tampere or Pori. Sokos Hotels offers a package which includes accommodation for one night at Sokos Hotel Seurahuone in a double room with two junior cots (children under 2 years old are free), buffet breakfast and entrance to Moominworld for two adults and two children. Info at > www.muumimaailma.fi  or www.sokoshotels.fi

The Wild Taiga offers a variety of small hotels and tours in the wilderness just next to the Russian border. Tours here feature action-packed activities such as snowmobiling, husky safaris and cross-country skiing. Visitors can also horseback ride, go on a reindeer sleigh, fish, snowshoe or watch a wide variety of animals in their natural habitats. Kuhmo and Suomussalmi, two cities in the Wild Taiga, are a textbook example of the mixture of rich tradition and strong local culture. The region’s settlement history is among the oldest in Finland. For those looking for cultural fulfillment the area offers a rich rural history, chamber music, rune singing, memorials of the Winter War and a variety of concerts. Info at > www.wildtaiga.fi

Does she love me, Santa, or does she love me not?

Does she love me, Santa, or does she love me not?

Nicosia resident Sergios Christou said that 20 years ago Cypriots would put gifts under the Christmas Tree on January 1st.

“It seems people have now been Europeanised and they instead gather and exchange gifts on Christmas Day”, Christou said.

“For a while we did gifts on both Christmas and New Year’s but that got to be too much. I actually prefer giving gifts on Christmas. It gives the kids more time to enjoy their presents over the holiday period”.

Despite the change in date, Christou said that many of the traditions, like putting biscuits and milk out the night before Santa comes to vist, still exist, they just now come a week earlier. And Ayios Vassilis, the Saint celebrated on January 1st has become synonymous with Santa Claus.

“The other day my six-year-old granddaughter suggested that Santa might be happier if we instead put out beer for him this year”.

Christou said that a common village tradition is to cross a dry leaf by a fireplace and then, after making a wish to Ayios Vassilis, toss it into the fire.

“Before tossing the dry leaf into the flames, you would say “Ayie Vassili Vasilia deixe tze fanerose an me agapa o…” (Ayie Vassili King, show and illuminate if I am loved by…) and then you name whoever’s love you are hoping for.

“If the leaf jumped up after you dropped it in the fire, then that meant the person loves you. If not, you got depressed and tried again”.

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