Yes, Kiddies, he IS coming to Town
So, children once a year we don’t care about security we don’t care about strange animals on the roof or people sliding down the chimney or magically stepping into the house. We are fine with that one person entering our homes and we will even leave a snack for him to feed his already overloaded cells with milk and cookies. And we call that person: Santa Claus.
For everyone, Santa is one of the most endearing symbols of Christmas. Store fronts, front yards and even malls become packed with the jolly old elf. We will even dress the kids up and pay for a picture of Santa with our screaming tots (in my day it was a Polaroid, but that is another topic). We all love Santa, well except for a few groups that will remain nameless. But where does this symbol of the Holidays come from, where do we get the concept and idea of Santa Claus?
Santa also goes by the name Saint Nick and if we follow that line of thought, then we are looking at Saint Nicholas of Myra. This 4th century saint was known for his good works with the poor and for helping the needy in the area of Turkey where he lived. Other facets of the Santa Claus mythos have been traced to regions in the north and the Norse Pantheon of gods where Odin led the Yule celebration and the Wild Hunt. Through the Christianization of these people, Odin became Father Christmas and then Santa Claus. And of course, from the Dutch you have the idea of Sinterklass. Sinterklass is a stately old man that keeps a list of the children and notes all the good and bad deeds that they do. At the end of the year he checks this, presumably twice, to see if the children in each household deserve any gifts. In the British Isles, this character is known as Father Christmas and strides the land at Christmas time wearing green or red robes and if the penultimate gift-giver.
All of these traditions have gone in together to create our modern concept of Santa Claus. Each of these personas has an aspect of gift giving. Most are seen in red, or at least winter style clothing, but the most modern version of Santa comes from an anonymous poem that was published in 1823 in the Troy, New York Sentinel called A Visit from St Nicholas. And though this is a poem with very Victorian ties, it is still the way that we relate to Santa today.
He was dress’d all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnish’d with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys was flung on his back,
And he look’d like a peddler just opening his pack;
His eyes – how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little round belly
That shook when he laugh’d, like a bowl full of jelly;
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,