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Santa Claus

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1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, with Clement Clarke Moore, helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.
1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, with Clement Clarke Moore, helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Santy, or simply Santa is a gift-giving figure in various cultures who distributes presents to children, traditionally on Christmas Eve. The popular American form Santa Claus originated as a mispronounciation of Dutch Sinterklaas, which is a contracted form of Sint Nicolaas (Saint Nicholas).

Father Christmas is a well-loved figure in many countries and predates the “Santa Claus” character. “Father Christmas” is similar in many ways, though the two have quite different origins. Using ‘Santa’ in places that predominantly call him ‘Father Christmas’ is often viewed as an Americanism and is quite rare, although they are generally regarded as the same character. Father Christmas is also present instead of “Santa” in Albania (“Babadimri”), Armenia (“Gaghant Baba”), Denmark (“Julemanden”), Italy (“Babbo Natale”), Lithuania (“Kalėdų Senelis”), Brazil (“Papai Noel”), Czech Republic (“Ježíšek”), Poland (“Święty Mikołaj”), Portugal (“Pai Natal”), Romania (“Moş Crăciun”), Germany (“Weihnachtsmann” or “Nikolaus”), Greece (“Άγιος Βασίλης”) Scottish Highlands (“Daidaín na Nollaig”), France and French Canada (“Le Père Noël”), Ireland (“Daidí na Nollaig”), Finland (“Joulupukki”), Norway (“Julenissen”), Sweden (“Jultomten”), Bulgaria (“Dyado Koleda”), Turkey (“Noel Baba”), Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (“Deda Mraz”), Spain and Latin America (“Papá Noel”), Afghanistan (“Baba Chaghaloo”), Iraq and South Africa (“Vader Kersfees”), Chile (Viejo Pascuero), Egypt (“Papa Noël”) ,Iran (“Baba Noel”).

In October of 2006 USA Today listed Santa Claus (St. Nick) as #4 on their list of Imaginary Luminaries: the 101 most influential people who never lived.

Santa Claus is a variation of a Dutch folk tale based on the historical figure Saint Nicholas, a bishop from Turkey (then known as Myra), who gave presents to the poor. His charity became legend when a man lost his fortune and found himself incapable of supporting his three daughters, who would not be able to find husbands as they lacked dowries. This man was going to give them over to a life of prostitution; however, St. Nicholas provided them with gold, enabling them to retain their virginal virtues and marry.

USMC-03952This inspired the mythical figure of Sinterklaas, the subject of a major celebration in the Netherlands and Belgium, Germany (where his alleged date of death, December 6, is celebrated the evening before on December 5), which in turn inspired both the myth and the name of Santa Claus (actually a mispronunciation of the Dutch word “Sinterklaas” by the English settlers of New Amsterdam (later renamed New York). Whilst in those countries Saint Nicholas is celebrated as a distinct character with a religious touch, Santa Claus is also making inroads as a symbol during Christmas.

He forms an important part of the Christmas tradition throughout the Western world and Japan and other parts of East Asia.

In many Eastern Orthodox traditions, Santa Claus visits children on New Year’s Day and is identified with Saint Basil whose memory is celebrated on that day.

Depictions of Santa Claus also have a close relationship with the Russian character of Ded Moroz (“Grandfather Frost”). He delivers presents to children and has a red coat, fur boots and long white beard. Much of the iconography of Santa Claus could be seen to derive from Russian traditions of Ded Moroz, particularly transmitted into western European culture through his German folklore equivalent, Väterchen Frost.

Conventionally, Santa Claus is portrayed as a kindly, round-bellied, merry, bespectacled white man in a red coat trimmed with white fur (perhaps remotely derived from the episcopal vestments of the original Bishop Nicholas), with a long white beard and green or white gloves. On Christmas Eve, he rides in his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer from house to house to give presents to children. To enter the house, Santa Claus comes down the chimney and exits through the fireplace. During the rest of the year he lives together with his wife Mrs. Claus and his elves manufacturing toys. Some modern depictions of Santa (often in advertising and popular entertainment) will show the elves and Santa’s workshop as more of a processing and distribution facility, ordering and receiving the toys from various toy manufacturers from across the world. His home is usually given as either the North Pole, in northern Canada, Korvatunturi in Finnish Lapland, Dalecarlia in Sweden, or Greenland, depending on the tradition and country. Sometimes Santa’s home is in Caesarea when he is identified as Saint Basil. L. Frank Baum placed his home in The Laughing Valley of Hohaho.

Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses materials from the Wikipedia.

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