We associate all things warm and Christmas with the idea of Santa, and his is roaring chuckle and plump potbelly never fails to remind us that the holiday season is upon us once again. This year of all years, the world is desperately clinging to the happy holiday vibes that come with a jolly old man wearing what’s essentially, a glorified red pair of pyjamas with a matching hat; which we all secretly want a set of because, let’s face it, it looks super cozy.
So, where did the legend (Shhh, don’t let your kids read this!) of Santa Claus actually originate? Or, maybe do let your kids read this because, you guessed it, he was real! But very few of us dwell beyond that fact. Like for instance, where was he from? How did all his characteristics come to be? Well, Santa’Ville is here to give you the lowdown.
Early church and folklore depictions of Saint Nicholas, together with the English take of Father Christmas, gave us some of the endearing qualities of Santa today.
In the 4th century, Saint Nicholas of Myra was known to have been a monk who gave away all of his inherited wealth, and travelled the countryside helping the poor, and protecting CHILDREN; famously saving 3 sisters from a grim future by providing them with dowries. This is how he became the patron of children, and where Santa’s gift-giving and generosity comes from.
Fast forward to 16th century England, Father Christmas was portrayed with a spirit of good cheer, peace, joy, and built large and often illustrated in green or scarlet robes lines with fur. This coincided with a famous illustration of Father Christmas called “Ghost of Christmas Present” by John Leech, where Father Christmas was wearing a long green coat lined with white fur. These recounts are evidently where we get the beloved red suit that Santa Claus wears today!
But…what’s the deal with dropping in through chimneys? Well, by the 19th century, European folklore including Dutch takes of Sinterklaas, migrated and evolved its way through North America, where stories were written and illustrations made. One such book published in 1809 called “A History of New York” or “Knickerbocker’s History of New York” is the first known written reference to Santa Claus sliding down a chimney. The chimney, was apparently a supernatural entryway for many old European folklores. Published work like these made Christmas, and therefore Santa Claus, more commercialized for public consumption. This is where we pick up tidbits of Santa today, as a cultural mishmash of different legends.
However, it all goes back to good old Saint Nicholas of Myra. Who is the longest standing known origin of Santa. Today, if you wanted to visit Santa’s REAL home, you wouldn’t travel to the North Pole. Instead, you’d be going to TURKEY, to a place now called Demre (historically Myra). There is even a St. Nicholas Church there, which is now said to house the tomb of Saint Nicholas himself.
Overall, the modern-day Santa Clause is a mixture of different cultural takes spanning many centuries and regions, having been moulded by storytellers over time. Though the original Santa Claus may be tucked away in Turkey, the evolved image of him today is from cultures across the world, which might be why Santa Claus is indeed so beloved worldwide.