Santa Claus Is Coming
On December 24, 2018 | 1 Comments

The Meaning of Santa

We’re all familiar with the usual tropes of Christmas: snow, sleds, reindeers, fireplaces, and how could we possibly forget–chestnuts. But perhaps the most dominant is Santa Claus: the overweight, jolly, white-bearded, red-clad man who laughs, “Ho, ho, ho.” This gentleman supposedly lives in the North Pole and come Christmas Eve, commandeers a gift-full sled pulled by a herd of reindeer that transport Santa to various homes, where he leaves presents 🎁 for “nice” children. There’s even a Norad tracker for Santa! Boy, do those reindeer work hard. I hope Santa has lots of treats for them.

While few adults believe in the existence of a true Santa Claus, even fewer know how this entity came about. It’s even more complex that one might imagine. Our modern Santa Claus comes from traditions of Saint Nicholas, who was a Greek bishop and gift-giver in Myra, Turkey; the British Father Christmas; and the Dutch Sinterklaas. 

Saint Nicholas, Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra (Wikimedia Commons)
Saint Nicholas, Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra (Wikimedia Commons)

But some also believe that Santa Claus took elements of the Germanic peoples who associated the god Wodan or Odin with their pagan mid-winter tradition of Yule, hence the word Yuletide included in carols etc. The depiction of Odin as a long-bearded man might have contributed to the appearance of Santa Claus.

Odin in the guise of a wanderer


But it was the famous drawing by Thomas Nast along with Clement Clarke Moore‘s 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” that contributed significantly to the legend and appearance of the modern Santa Claus.

The Original Santa Claus (Wikipedia/originally Harper’s Weekly)

How Christmas itself came to be and why the celebration is on December 25 is a different but related topic, but essentially, when Germanic Europe was Christianized, many Yuletide customs were absorbed into Christmas.

Of course, nowadays, Christmas and the legend of Santa Claus means bonanza for retailers (or at least that’s what they hope for), and much of the meaning of Christmas (which is short for Christ’s Mass) is lost in a sometimes over-the-top ritual of gift-giving. Santa Claus is an excellent figure on which to hang the business of shopping and gifts, which is why we say, “Santa was good to me this year.” Eartha Kitt satirized the hyper-commercial idea of “Santa Baby” in which Claus is a mildly sexualized bearer of expensive gifts for a girl we suspect might not have been good “all year,” as she claims.

The question that has always come to my mind is, what does Santa Claus get for Christmas? Does anyone care? Someone give the poor reindeers something, at least!

Comments1
SAMUEL VICTOR QUAO Posted December 25, 2018 at3:50 am   Reply

Very intriguing piece.

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