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Historical Santa Claus

Ancient Yule God

Santa Claus has been around for centuries. His earliest origins predate the Christianity. The mythological characters Ukko, Odin, Thor, and Saturn gave us some of his distinctive characteristics. Created out of legends attributed to the Greek god Poseidon, the Roman god Neptune, and the Teutonic god Hold Nickar. In Celtic lands he was a Yule god. Many ancient Pagan gods and goddesses were similarly Christianized in the early centuries of Christianity. Various temples of Poseidon became shrines of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas adopted Poseidon’s title “the Sailor”. Saint Nicholas also adopted some of the qualities of “The Grandmother”, Befana in Italy and Mamuskia in Eastern Europe and Steps of Russia. The Grandmother was said to have filled children’s stockings with gifts at night. Befana’s shrine at Bari was also converted into a shrine to St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas

The Origin of St. Nicholas is disputed. Protestant Scholars believe a fictional life was created. Catholic Scholars have another history. St. Nicholas was Hagios Nikolaos of Myra (Smyrne or Izmir). He was Bishop of Myra in Lycia (modern day Turkey). In 300 AD he was born the only child to a wealthy family. He was orphaned when both parents died of the plague. He grew up in a monastery and at the age of 17 became one of the youngest priests ever. He was persecuted and imprisoned with many other Christians during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian, and was released and honored when Constantine the Great made Christianity the state religion of Rome. He attended the first council of Nicea although his name does not appear on the list of attending bishops. Legend has it that Nicholas smote what he saw as a dangerous heretic in the jaw. 200 years after Nicholas’s death, Justinian built a church in honor of St. Nicholas in Constantinople. He is honored as a Saint and is the patron saint of children and sailors.

Miracles of Saint Nicholas:
1. When he was an infant, his mother only nursed him on Wednesdays and Fridays; he fasted the remaining days.

2. He halted a storm at sea to save three drowning sailors.

3. During his lifetime, he adored children and often threw gifts anonymously into the windows of their homes.

4. His father left him a fortune that he used to help poor children.

5. He grabbed the sword of an executioner to save the life of a political prisoner.

6. He brought back to life several children who had been killed.

One Legend, there were three Italian maidens whose families had fallen on hard times. Because their father could not afford the dowries necessary for them to marry. The Father considered selling one of the daughters into slavery because if he did not all three would not marry well if marry at all. Many times women where forced into prostitution. When the good saint heard of the family’s plight, he went to their home late one night and anonymously tossed three bags of gold down the chimney. Miraculously, a bag fell into each of the sisters’ stockings, were hanging by the fire to dry. His kindhearted gift made it possible for all three sisters to marry. Latter story says that he did it three times for each daughter just before her wedding day.

Dante’ referred to Nicholas’s generosity to maidens as “to lead their youth to honour”

10th Century

Anonymous Greek wrote “the West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in the isles, in the furthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. Images of him are set up, panegyrics preached and festivals celebrated. All Christians, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, reverence him memory and call upon his protection. And his favors, which know no limit of time and continue from age to age, are poured out over all the earth; the Scythians know them, as do the Indians and the barbarians, the Africans as well as the Italians.”

St. Nicholas’s remains in Myra are moved to Bari, in Italy. The Merchants of Bari organized a predatory expedition to the burial site, stole the bones, and built a church for religious pilgrims. Venice also claims to enshrine the bones of the saint.

Businesses started putting three masses of gold over their logo on their signs. Pawnbroker’s shop started putting three gold balls on their shop's sign. This was symbolic of the saint residing over the business. St. Nicholas became the saint of money lending, bankers and brokers. Eventually every profession, guild, trade had the symbol. Even thieves and pirates adopted the symbol.

 

19th Century

With the reformation, Christkindlein supersedes St. Nicholas in much of Europe.

There are more than four hundred churches dedicated to Nicholas in England.

The Reformation 16th Century

The Reformation in Europe swept away much of Catholic Tradition and tried to replace much of it. The feasting and veneration of Catholic saints were banned but people had become accustomed to the annual visit from their gift-giving saint. So in some countries, the festivities of St. Nicholas’ Day were merged with Christmas celebrations. St. Nicholas Day was Dec 5th and Christmas was Dec 25th. This ushered the era of the present givers.

Santa

Throughout much of the world

Santa Claus

Throughout much of the world

Saint Nicholas

Throughout much of the world & Victorian Times

Saint Nick

Throughout much of the World

De Kerstman

Holland

Sankt Nikolaus

Germany

Kriss Kringle

Much of the World

Pere Noel

France

Papai Noel

Brazil (Portuguese)

Julenisse

Much of Scandinavia

Jultomten

Sweden

Tomten

Sweden

Kaledu Senelis

Lithuania

Joulupukki

Finland

Father Christmas

England

Father Christmas

In England, he is called Father Christmas and is depicted with sprigs of holly, ivy or mistletoe.

Sinterklaas

The Dutch version.

Joulupukki

In Scandinavian countries, the ancient Pagan Yule god has transmuted into Joulupukki - similar to the American Santa.

Ukko

Findland's present bringer is an old man in caps and furs with only a mustache.

Pere Noel

In France he was named Pere Noel. He left small gifts in children’s shoes.

Christkindlein (Christkind which means “Christ Child”)

Christkindlein, the Christ child, delivers gifts in secret to the children. He traveled with a dwarf-like helper called Pelznickel (Belsnickle) or with St. Nicholas-like figures. Often Christkindlein was portrayed by a fair-haired young girl, this angelic figure was sometimes the gift-bearer too. She is supposed to be the messenger appearing on behalf of the about-to-be-born Jesus.

The feast day of Saint Nicholas was December 6th, but after the Reformation, German Protestants celebrated the Christkindl (Christ Child) on his feast day, December 25th. Although the Christ Child was very revered, people did not want to give up such a popular hero as St. Nicholas.

Christkindlein becomes Kriss Kringle.

Weihnachtsmann

In Germany he was named Weihnachtsmann which means “Christmas man”. He wore long robes of red with a holly wreath around his head. He is a helper of Christkind.

Knecht Ruprecht (Friend of Saint Nicholas)

Knecht Ruprecht means Servant Rupert. Also known as Black Peter. Black Peter because he delivered presents down the chimney and got dirty with soot.

Depending on local tradition either Knecht Ruprecht or Belsnickle was Helpers of St. Nicholas. They were fearsome characters, brandishing rods and switches. It was their job reward good children

In some places, the images, of Knecht Ruprecht and St. Nicholas merged to form Ru Klaus (Rough Nicholas - so named because of rough appearance), Aschen Klaus (Ash Nicholas because he carried a sach of ashes as well as a bundle of switches) and Pelznickle (Furry Nicholas referring to his fur clad appearance). These were some times frightening as punishers of naughty children.

Grandfather Frost

In Russia, when Communism took over, they outlawed Christianity and he was named Grandfather Frost. He wore blue and distributes toys on New Year’s Eve.

Sante Klaas (Sinterklaas)

Children put out before the fireplace a pair of shoes or clogs filled with hay, water, and carrots for the Saint's White Horse. The next morning little presents, or birchrods, depending if good or bad.

Children would in America would mispronounce his name and say “Santy Claus” soon after His name became Santa Claus.

 

Recent History of Santa

Puritans outlaw the mention of St. Nicolas’ name. They outlaw Christmas, gift exchanges, candle lighting, Christmas carols.

Dutch immigrants bring the Legend of Sinter Klaas.

Santa first appears in the media as St. A Claus.

The New York Historical Society was founded with St. Nicolas as its patron saint. Its members engaged in the Dutch practice of gift-giving at Christmas.

Washington Irving, writing under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker, included Saint Nicolas in his book "A History of New York." Nicolas is described as riding into town on a horse.

Irving, revised his book to include Nicolas riding over the trees in a wagon.

William Gilley printed a poem about "Santeclaus" who was dressed in fur and drove a sleigh drawn by a single reindeer.

Dentist Clement Clarke Moore is believed by many to have written a poem "An Account of a Visit from Saint Nicolas," which became better known as "The Night before Christmas." Santa is portrayed as an elf with a miniature sleigh equipped with eight reindeer which are named in the poem as Blitzen, Comet, Cupid, Dancer, Dasher, Donner, Prancer, and Vixen. Others attribute the poem to a contemporary, Henry Livingston, Jr.

J.W. Parkinson, a Philadelphia merchant, hired a man to dress up in a "Criscringle" outfit and climb the chimney of his store.

President Abraham Lincoln asked Nast to create a drawing of Santa with some Union soldiers. This image of Santa supporting the enemy had a demoralizing influence on the Confederate army -- an early example of psychological warfare.

Illustrator Thomas Nast created images of Santa for the Christmas editions of Harper's Magazine. These continued through the 1890's.

Francis P Church, Editor of the New York Sun, wrote an editorial in response to a letter from an eight year-old girl, Virginia O'Hanlon. She had written the paper asking whether there really was a Santa Claus. It has become known as the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" letter.

The image of Santa had been standardized to portray a bearded, over-weight, jolly man dressed in a red suit with white trim.

Since grazing reindeer was not possible at the NORTH POLE, newspapers revealed the true location of Santa Claus to be in Finnish Lapland.

In 1927, “Uncle Markus”, Markus Rautio, on Finnish public radio, revealed the great secret that he lives on Lapland’s Korvatunturi - “Ear Fell”. Santa has the assistance of Scandinanvian.

In 1950s, Santa regularly visits Napapiiri, near Rovaniemi. His visits are so regular he sets up office there and even has a post office set up.

Haddon Sundblom, illustrator for The Coca-Cola ™ company drew a series of Santa images in their Christmas advertisements until 1964. The company holds the trademark for the Coca-Cola Santa design. Christmas ads including Santa continue to the present day.

Copywriter Robert L. May of the Montgomery Ward Company created a poem about Rudolph, the ninth reindeer. May had been "often taunted as a child for being shy, small and slight." He created an ostracized reindeer with a shiny red nose who became a hero one foggy Christmas eve. Santa was part-way through deliveries when the visibility started to degenerate. Santa added Rudolph to his team of reindeer to help illuminate the path. A copy of the poem was given free to Montgomery Ward customers.

Johnny Marks wrote the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." Rudolph was relocated to the North Pole where he was initially rejected by the other reindeer who wouldn't let him play in their reindeer games because of his strange looking nose. The song was recorded by Gene Autry and became his all-time best seller. Next to "White Christmas" it is the most popular song of all time.

An urban folk tale began to circulate about a Japanese department store displaying a life-sized Santa Claus being crucified on a cross. It never happened.

Artist Robert Cenedella drew a painting of a crucified Santa Claus. It was displayed in the window of the New York's Art Students League and received intense criticism from some religious groups. His drawing was a protest. He attempted to show how Santa Claus had replaced Jesus Christ as the most important personality at Christmas time.

How Santa saved Christmas vacation for federal employees
The
1st Amendment of the U.S. constitution, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, requires a wall of separation between church and state. This means that federal, state and local governments cannot establish an official religion; they cannot impede religious expression; they cannot promote religion as superior to secularism or vice-versa.

The United States Code, section 5 USC 6103 declares ten national, legal, public holidays. Nine are secular; only Christmas has significant religious content. Cincinnati attorney Richard Ganulin filed a lawsuit on 1998-AUG-4 in U.S. district court, 4 asking that the federal government be required to not declare future DEC-25 holidays. His goal is not to terminate Christmas; he wants Federal Employees to be able to take DEC-25 off if they wish as an extra vacation day. He feels that "Christmas is a religious holiday and the Congress of the United States is not constitutionally permitted to endorse or aid any religion, purposefully or otherwise, or [promote] entanglement between our government and religious beliefs." Judge Susan Dlott dismissed the suit. According to ReligionToday for 1999-DEC-8, Judge Dlott decided "that Christmas can be observed as a federal holiday because non-Christians also mark the holiday by celebrating the arrival of Santa Claus. Since nonreligious people also observe the holiday, giving federal workers a day off for Christmas does not elevate one religion over another."

Presumably, the Federal government is now free to declare a holiday at Easter, because so many Americans celebrate the secular Easter bunny fertility symbol. Ganulin has promised to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

NORAD regularly reports only one sleigh tracked on their radar screens each Christmas eve from the North Pole. NORAD has never reported any return and repeat trips.

 

The theology of Santa

Santa, as taught to most children, has most of the attributes of God:

He is virtually omnipresent. He can visit hundreds of millions of homes in one night.

He is omniscient. He monitors each child; he is all-seeing and all-knowing; he knows when they are bad and good.

Although not omnipotent, he does have great powers. He can manufacture gifts for hundreds of millions of children, and deliver them in one night -- each to the correct child.

He is all-good and all-just. He judges which children have shown good behavior and rewards them appropriately. Bad children are bypassed or receive a lump of coal.

He is eternal. 26

He rewards good and punishes bad behavior. 26

However, there are negative aspects to Santa's behavior that can damage a child's self-esteem:

In practice, children are not rewarded with gifts according to their behavior; they receive presents according to the amount of money that their parents are willing or able to spend on them at Christmas time. A child may receive little or nothing from Santa because his/her parents are poor. Unfortunately, the child has probably adsorbed from the media and their friends only bad children get nothing from Santa. He/she might begin to look upon themselves as a bad person. This may well damage their self esteem.

Most children in Muslim, Jewish, Jehovah's Witnesses or some other faith traditions do not receive gifts from Santa. But when they go to school, they see that their Christian contemporaries have been given presents. They might feel that they are less worthy than their friends, or that their religion is inferior to Christianity.

What should children be taught about Santa Claus?

A "Santa Truth Poll" on familyeducation.com shows that, in the estimation of adults, most children stop believing in Santa Claus between the ages of 8 and 10.

There are many opinions on what we should teach children about Santa Claus:

Santa Claus is an important part of childhood: Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW believes that "all children have the right to be fascinated and enchanted by the nurturing, age-old myths and fables of their culture. Santa Claus, and yes, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy engage a young child's sense of wonder." He implies in his essay that parents should originally teach their children that Santa exists. He suggests that when the children develop doubts about the reality of Santa, that the parents refrain from admitting the truth. Rather, they should stand by to support their kids when his/her "fantasies and myths grudgingly give way to more mature, confusing realities." 24

Belief in Santa Claus is dangerous: The Rev. John Eich suggests that teaching a child about Santa can backfire. "When a parent says 'Yes, there really is a Santa Claus and his reindeer can fly,' he is no longer playing a game. The parent is lending his personal authority as a parent to the myth, giving it the ring of truth." When the child later finds out that there is no Santa Claus, then she/he might also doubt other parental teachings. In particular, the child might believe that that another man is also a fake: Jesus Christ who also is said to have miraculous powers, knows when everyone is sleeping and awake, knows when each person is bad or good, and who brings the gift of salvation. Moral, ethical, behavioral and other parental teachings may be similarly suspect. Author's note from the History Channel: I can support Eich's assertion from my personal experience. As a young boy, when I found out that Santa Claus did not exist, I was initially relieved. The universe made a lot more sense when I found out that reindeer didn't fly, that it was quite impossible for a man to visit all of the homes on earth on Christmas eve, etc. Unfortunately, the concept of a God who could suspend physical laws, perform miraculous acts, be aware of each human's thoughts and actions, etc. seemed equally improbable. During my childhood, I had abandoned belief in the Easter Bunny, tooth fairy, and Santa. God seemed like just one more magical figure. I became an agnostic, and have remained so for over five decades.

Belief in Santa is useful: Gary Grassl believes that children can grasp the concept of Santa Claus much more easily than they can comprehend God. At a young age, they can understand a quasi-deity who can make presents, and deliver them under magical circumstances to all of the children of the world. Santa is a type of simplified God. Once children understand how Santa works, it is a relatively simple step to abandon him and accept an omnipotent, omniscient, all-loving and all-just God.

Teaching about Santa as a myth: Parents can teach the historical legends associated with St. Nicolas. They are great stories which discuss the importance of generosity and sharing even if they are based on events that never happened. At the same time, parents can teach Santa Clause as a modern secular/cultural myth. Children can still enjoy the story without actually believing that Santa exists. Families can still pretend that gifts arrived from Santa. Since the child has always considered Santa to be an imaginary person, he/she will not be disillusioned at their parents when their friends tell them that Santa does not exist.

 

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