Santa Claus: Myth or Legend?


Christmas is a wonderful time of year with joy and happiness and gift giving all thanks to the big guy in red. Sure there’s other significance to Christmas that people cherish but what kid in the world doesn’t perk up when they hear the name “Santa”? For the first few years of a child’s life, to believe that a jolly red stanger comes in and leaves you gifts gives children the excitement and belief of magic and goodness. Just the story alone tells kids that if they be kind to others, kindness will come to them.

But how did all of this come about? There are many creation stories from many cultures and a few of them have come together to splice into the Santa that is known today in the US.

Christmas as a whole is seen as a very Christian holiday where we celebrate the birth of Jesus and give gifts and prayers to others as a sign of thanks for his birth. Santa on the other hand is not quite as holy. Where Santa may be tied together with Christmas on the outside, generally the two don’t quite mix in the religious community but in some cases they do. It all depends on a family’s particular belief and the part of the world you may reside.

The reason Santa is known by so many names is because of the mash up of so many cultures with the varied creation myths. St. Nick or St. Nicholas comes from a 4th century Greecian Bishop. Kris Kringle is a mispronounciation of the German name Christkind, or “Christ Child”, referring to baby Jesus. Father Christmas comes from British personification of Christmas itself. In France and French speaking countries they use their own version of Father Christmas, Père Noël. In almost every culture has their own twist on this popular character.

One of my favorite pieces of Santa history comes from Germanic times. I suppose it’s my German heritage or maybe the wonderful connection between modern and old world mythology that I enjoy. In some cases they believed that Santa Claus was based on one of the Norse Gods Jólnir, otherwise known as Odin. Previous to Christmas, some European countries celebrated the midwinter pagan event Yule. During Yuletide supernatural occurances such as ghostly sightings related to the Wild Hunt led by Odin, who would ride through on his horse, Sleipnir, during the night. Many of the traditions of Yule have now been adopted into modern day Christmas.

Some other interesting facts that I come across was quite surprising. The whole visual of Santa as a jolly red being hadn’t come to fruition until the 1800s from a charicature artist named Thomas Nast who depicted the look of Santa from the 1823 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” Also the idea that children were on a naughty or nice list didn’t come around until the 1934 song of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Before then, this all powerful “list” had no significance or renown.

All in all, no matter who or where Santa may have originated from, he is a huge deal during Christmas times. He brings hope and goodness to all people of all cultures. It’s facinating that such a figure would come together from so many places so that modern day people can celebrate a happy time. Christmas truly is a wonderful time of year.


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