Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Story Behind Santa Claus

"You better watch out

You better not cry

Better not pout

I’m telling you why

Santa Clause is coming to town."
~Santa Claus is Coming to Town 

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, and even as Kris Kringle is a figure with mythical, historical, and folkloric aspects. In many western cultures, he is supposed to bring gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24. The modern figure was derived from the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas.. This legendary being may have part of basis in hagiographical tales concerning the historical figure of a real man, Saint Nicholas. There is a nearly identical story is attributed by Greek and Byzantine folklore to Basil of Caesarea. Basil's feast day on January 1 is considered the time of exchanging gifts in Greece.

Most of us think he always wore the red coat and pants, trimmed in white fur, black boots and belt, and red hat trimmed in white fur and a ball of white fur like a tassel at the end. But that version did not appeared until the 1823 poem, “Night Before Christmas,” written by Clement Clarke Moore, which was called a “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Thomas Nast, considered to be the father of the American cartoon, was the first to have created the first image of Santa as we know today. But the name, Santa Claus, was first used in the American press in 1773.

According to a tradition, Santa Claus lives at the North Pole, with a large number of elves, and nine (originally eight) flying reindeer. Since the 20th century, in an idea popularized by the 1934 song "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town", Santa Claus has been believed to make a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior ("naughty" or "nice") and to deliver presents, including toys, fruit and candy to all of the good boys and girls in the world, and sometimes coal to the naughty children, on the single night of Christmas Eve. He accomplishes this feat with the aid of the elves that make the toys in the workshop and the reindeer who pull his sleigh.

Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Sinterklaas. A 4th century Greek Christian bishop of Myra (now Demre) in Lycia (now Turkey), Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor. One well-known tale concerned him presenting three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. In continental Europe (particularly, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, and Germany) he is still portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes. In 1087, the Italian city of Bari mounted an expedition to locate the tomb of the Christian Saint and to procure his remains. The reliquary of St. Nicholas was desecrated by Italian sailors and the spoils, including his relics, were taken to Bari where they are kept to this day. Saint Nicholas later became proclaimed as the patron saint of an odd assemble of peoples: archers, sailors, and children, to even pawnbrokers. He is also the patron saint of both Amsterdam and Moscow.There are numerous parallels between Santa and Odin of Norse Mythology. There are theories regarding the pagan origins of various customs of the holiday stemming from areas where the Germanic peoples were Christianized and retained elements of their indigenous traditions, surviving in various forms into modern depictions of Santa Claus. Odin was sometimes recorded, at the native Germanic holiday of Yule, as leading a great hunting party through the sky. Two books from Iceland, the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, describe Odin as riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir that could leap great distances, giving rise to comparisons to Santa Claus's reindeer. Further, Odin was referred to by many names in Skaldic poetry, some of which describe his appearance or functions. These include Síðgrani, Síðskeggr Langbarðr, (all meaning "long beard") and Jólnir ("Yule figure"). According to some traditions, children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar, near the chimney for Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir's food with gifts or candy. This practice still survives in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands and became associated with Saint Nicholas since Christianization. In other countries it has been replaced by the hanging of stockings at the chimney in homes.

In the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, Saint Nicholas ("Sinterklaas", often called "De Goede Sint" — "The Good Saint") is aided by helpers commonly known as Zwarte Piet in Dutch ("Black Peter") or "Père Fouettard" in French. His feast on December 6 came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts. However, in the Netherlands the Dutch celebrate on the evening of December 5, with a celebration called "pakjesavond". In the Reformation in 16th-17th century Europe, many Protestants and others changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, and the date for giving gifts changed from December 6 to Christmas Eve. Tradition holds that Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) and his aides arrive each year by steam boat from Spain in mid November carrying a book that contains notes on all children that indicate whether the child has been good or naughty during the year and gifts, chocolate letters and spice nuts to be handed to the well-behaved children. During the subsequent three weeks, Saint Nicholas is believed to ride a white-grey horse over the rooftops at night, delivering gifts through the chimney to the well-behaved children, while the naughty children risk being caught by Saint Nicholas' aides that carry jute bags and willow canes for that purpose.

In contrast to Santa Claus, Sinterklaas is an elderly, stately and serious man with white hair and a long, full beard. He wears a long red cape or chasuble over a traditional white bishop's alb and sometimes red stola, dons a red mitre, and holds a gold-colored crosier, a long ceremonial shepherd's staff with a fancy curled top. He carries a big book that tells whether each individual child has been good or naughty in the past year. He traditionally rides a white gray. Though in the Netherlands and Belgium next to Sinterklaas, the character of Santa Claus is also known, He is known as de Kerstman in Dutch ("the Christmas man") and Père Noël ("Father Christmas") in French.

An elf in Nordic folklore about the 1840s called "Tomte" or "Nisse" started to deliver the Christmas presents in Denmark. Portrayed as a short, bearded man dressed in gray clothes and a red hat, this creature was obviously inspired by the Santa Claus traditions that spread to Scandinavia then. By the end of the 19th century this tradition had also spread to Norway and Sweden, replacing the Yule Goat. The same thing happened in Finland, but there the more human figure retained the Yule Goat name. But even though the tradition of the Yule Goat as a bringer of presents is now all but extinct, a straw goat is still a common Christmas decoration in all of Scandinavia. Iceland has thirteen Yule lads that originate from folklore rather than Christianity.

Father Christmas goes back as far as the 17th century in Britain. There are pictures of him from that era, where he is a jolly well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe. He typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, and was reflected as the "Ghost of Christmas Present", in Charles Dickens's festive classic A Christmas Carol.

Today, Santa Claus is the image for the Christmas spirit. Parents take their children for photos with Santa at malls and shopping centers. There’s even a website by Norad where you can track then jolly old elf. NORAD SANTA

Now that you learned something of where he originated from, the question is, are you naughty or nice? You can check out at Naughty or Nice Meter After all, you only have a few more days before he descends into your home to leave your present.

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