Dave, I have the most basic question of the season for you to tackle: Is Santa real or not?
Okay, well, let me answer first for those under 10yo children who might be reading this weblog: of course he is!
Now, let’s dig into it just a bit further, as the mythology of Santa Claus has a long and interesting history. First off, Santa’s proper name is Saint Nicholas, though he’s picked up a lot of nicknames throughout the years, including Kris Kringle, Father Christmas and Sinterklaas.
Saint Nicholas of Myra was a saint who lived back in the 4th Century in Byzantia (modern-day Turkey) who had the reputation of secretly giving gifts to the poor. Most famously, legend has it that he presented three desperately poor daughters of a Christian with dowries so they wouldn’t end up as prostitutes.
St. Nicholas is still revered as the patron saint of seamen, merchants, archers, children, prisoners, pawnbrokers, and even prostitutes. He’s also one of the patron saints of Russia, now that I think about it. A busy guy. Saint Nick inspired two legends: Nikolaus in Germany, and Sinterklaas in the Netherlands, both of which directly contributed to the legend of Santa Claus himself.
Depictions of Santa Claus as a jolly, heavy white bearded older man are apparently directly lifted from the Russian mythological character Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost). Ded Moroz is historically represented as wearing a red coat, fur boots and a long white beard. Since Russian immigration directly influenced much of the Western European and then American tradition, it’s very likely that our current picture of Santa Claus is directly from Grandfather Frost.
Many of the historical legends behind Santa Claus also involve children leaving out fodder in their shoes for the horse that Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, or similar rode. Most likely that’s what has evolved into the modern tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace, actually.
The definitive modern interpretation of Santa Claus, however, is widely agreed to have been The Night Before Christmas (formerly known as “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, actually), wherein Santa is described as being heavyset and riding a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer who are named for the first time in this 1823 publication. Another popular publication early in the 19th Century was The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, by Wizard of Oz author L. Frank Baum.
Okay, so that’s the academic side of things. Interesting, but missing a certain level of heart, of soul.
So is there a Santa Claus?
Well, we live in a world where the idea of someone rewarding good behavior in this life, rather than the next (or at the door to the Pearly Gates) sounds darn nice, and particularly for children, is a good reminder of the rewards of thrift, virtue, compassion and honesty. And those are sorely missing attributes in our modern world, if you ask me.
So yes, I think that there is a Santa Claus.
I’ll certainly make sure we leave a plate of cookies and glass of milk out on Christmas Eve. How about you?