Imagine it is the 25th of December. You have sent out Christmas greetings in traditional Christmas cards to your loved ones and also sent a nice, warm message on your WhatsApp groups. The ring of ‘Merry Christmas’ is in the air filling your ears. You smell Christmas cookies and recall the taste of the Christmas cake in your mouth.
What if at this point I come up to you and engage you with something that disturbs the celebratory mood but also captivates your curious brain as it is arisen with more than one question about the origin of the festivities?
I tell you that you have been lied to your entire life: Santa doesn’t exist. You give a chuckle.
“Haha, you really had me for a moment there!” you say, sarcastically.
I tell you, Christmas isn’t a Christian holiday. Bible says that Jesus Christ was born in spring, possibly in March. What are we doing on the 25th of December? The date to celebrate Christmas was merely chosen so that pagan sun-worshipers would not have to forgo their own celebrations when they were converted to Christianity. December 25 is a pagan holiday for Winter Solstice in disguise, similar is true of many other Christian traditions.
“Well, you are stating theories as fact.” You are skeptical of my words but you also have a hard time believing that birth of Christ shall be celebrated in a winter month for no given reason and what shall be the date but the one coinciding with Winter Solstice. “A mere coincidence” is not the answer, you know it.
Now, I ask you why does Santa wear red robes. You say you don’t know. Santa wears the colours of Coca-Cola brand, I tell you. Santa as you picture him was created by Coca-Cola.
“That’s stretching the semblance a bit too far.” You say, slightly irritated.
Well, if you really think about it Coca-Cola could be said to ‘own’ Santa Claus.
“Most of what you say is utter bull-crap.” You finally stash away fighting with reason.
Not bull, reindeer, I presume to correct.
Either way, you would be right. What I have said so far only rests on derisive arguments and fickle implications of centuries old writings or artwork. There is no conclusive evidence for them to be true. Neither, however, is there anything in history that conclusively eradicates them.
There is one job, though, that these conspiracy theories do atrociously well: they make us want to question our elders (or the internet) about the real origins of various celebrations, customs and practices. Why do you have a fir tree decorated with lighting, paper-cuts and glimmering gift boxes resting in the middle of your drawing room? Why do we hang stockings by the fireplace? Who was Santa Claus, if there even was one or who created him in our fiction?
The man attributed to be the secret gift-giver was a Bishop who lived in the 4th Century. He lived at a place called Myra (in present-day Turkey) which was, at the time, under the seat of the Roman Empire. He was a rich man with inherited wealth of his parents who died when he was young. The stories about him laud him as a kind hearted soul who gave generously to the needy. He was called a Saint because of his kindness. One of the most famous stories tell of how the custom of hanging stockings came about:
St. Nicholas heard of a poor man who had three daughters. He was to marry the eldest but hadn’t had the money to give the dowry to the groom’s party. St. Nicholas scaled up the roof of the poor man’s house in the dark of the night and dropped a bag full of gold down the chimney. The bag fell into a stocking which was hung by the fire to dry! This was repeated with the second daughter. The third time, St. Nicholas was caught in the act as the man had hid himself nearby to learn about his secret benefactor. St. Nicholas begged the old man to let his secret be. But soon the news got out and when anyone received a secret gift, it was believed that maybe it was from St. Nicholas.
Other stories include fantastic accounts of him helping sailors clear a treacherous sea passage to the coast with safety.
St. Nicholas was exiled from Myra and was later put into prison under persecution by the Emperor Diocletian. The year of his death is unclear but it is believed that he died on the 6th day of December. The date is celebrated as St. Nicholas day by sailors of Bari.
The historical journey of the coming up of the name ‘Santa Claus’ has many stops. It is certainly believed to have started when the stories about St. Nicholas came out and then again when they ceased in popularity in the 16th Century. Certain differing stories where the gift-giver was named ‘Father Christmas’ became popular in the UK. Other such histories can be traced, all with different names, in other parts of the world. In some countries, belief held him as a golden haired baby with wings symbolizing new born baby Jesus. This was called ‘Christkind’.
In the USA, his name was ‘Kris Kringle’ (from Christkind). Later, the Dutch settlers took the old stories of St. Nicholas with them and St. Nicholas and Kris Kringle became ‘SinterKlaas’ or as we now say ‘Santa Claus’!
‘Father Christmas’ in the UK and ‘Santa Claus’ in the USA became more and more alike and eventually were seen as one and the same.
The most famous writing that enlivens all our beliefs about Santa Claus is the poem ‘Twas the night before Christmas’ or ‘A visit from St. Nicholas’ which you may have read as a child. The poem gives us a most playful account of a jolly, old man dressed in fur riding on a flying sleigh driven by eight reindeer’s who he calls by name. The poet instantly recognizes the man as ‘St. Nick’. The man who came down the chimney of poet’s house is depicted as dimpled, merry faced with twinkling eyes, and a round little belly. He clenched a stump of a pipe between his teeth and his beard was “as white as snow”. The man is then later described as “chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf”, which makes the poet shred down his fears and makes him laugh.
The connection between Santa Claus and Coca-Cola is obviously an urban myth. Even Coca-Cola admits that they are not the one who made red-suited Santa popular. A question comes to mind, who did?
A very close picture of Santa compared to what we have him be like in our minds was made by the artist Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly. It came out in the magazine on 1st january, 1881. Thomas Nast had been doing his sketches of Santa Claus for two decades, every holiday season all of which were highly recognized in the readership. Through the years, the artist had drawn him in various robes (again, red and white numbering high) and with a stout stature and so this was when Santa developed his big tummy and style of his robes. His 1881 drawing of Santa with a complete red belly, an arm full of toys and smoking a pipe became extremely popular. And then, with more artists drawing Red-and-white robed Santa, it was the only image that came to one’s mind thinking of Santa Claus.
Even if it were artists’ imaginative drawings that was driving popular beliefs, there is reason to believe historical facts weren’t out of picture. In the tales about St. Nicholas, it has been hinted that Red-and-white robes were a special preference for the Bishop.
It was in 1920’s that Coca-Cola began using Santa Claus in their adverts. In 1931 the classic ‘Coke Santa’ drawing was done by Haddon Sundblom. He made Thomas Nast’s Santa Claus but made him even more larger than life, merrier and joyful with the replacement of the smoke pipe with a glass of coke!
I imagine you have been cranked up by this recount of the making of Santa Claus and I intend to leave you as such. I believe you will appreciate the quests of the origins of other Christmas traditions quite as much as this one but I have the mind to let you embark on those quests on your own. Now, I am not here to provide you with all the erudition this year, am I?
Just as I conclude this, I have to ask you about one last thing about Santa Claus. Another very recognizable feature about him: his laughter. Why does Santa say ‘Ho, ho, ho?
Reference.com provides: “Santa Claus says ‘ho ho ho’ in order to promote a joyful, happy and laughter-rich image for young children.” Further, when a person says “Ho, ho, ho!”, it is considered more of a deep sound than a “ha, ha, ha!”. It is associated with old age, merriment and even with large body-type. No wonder, the character of Santa with his huge belly and joyous personality was considered apt to have a laughter that sounded “Ho, Ho, Ho!”.
To make you comprehend the significance of Santa’s laughter, I will tell you as much: you will know what I am referring to if as a kid you went up to a parent with a letter meant for Santa and asked what to write in the 6 blocks provided in front of the label “Postal Code”.