Wednesday, December 21, 2022

The Meaning of Santa Claus


(In holiday mode and with zero creativity or energy, I’ve selected a previous post for this Christmas week.)

The meaning of Santa Claus

The tropes of Christmas are pretty much boilerplate: snow, sleds, reindeers, fireplaces--at least in the frigid parts of the Northern Hemisphere. But the arguably most dominant symbol is Santa Claus: the overweight, jolly, white-bearded, red-clad man who laughs, “Ho, ho, ho.” By the way, the ruddy cheeks and red bulbous nose are due to acne rosacea.

Claus 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. 

Santa Claus: Saint Nicholas, Greek bishop and gift-giver of Myra 
(Image: 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.

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 (Image 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. 

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.

1 comment:

  1. Good thing he's got those reindeer! I wouldn't trust an airline at the moment...