Ho, Ho…Who? Part II

This post, and the one before it have to do with the Christmas season. The last one talked about how we not only have the date wrong, but we probably don’t understand that gift giving thing very well either. In this post, let’s talk about…Santa Claus. Surely a more benign figure cannot be found. Santa is the epitome of kind benevolence. He represents the spirit of giving we associate with the season. Indeed, how could you not love Santa? Always jolly, working around the year to bring gifts to everyone, he is an example of selflessness worth emulating. And best of all, he is non-secular, scattering joy to anyone who will embrace him.

Where did this guy come from anyway? The prototype that everyone seems to go back to is Saint Nicholas, a generous 4th century Catholic bishop who found ways to help those in need. However, there other influences to the story as well. Germanic people have pulled in the story of Odin, their Father god, blending in some of his characteristics. It’s easy to see a common resemblence with this well known old picture.

The Dutch added to the story with Sinterklaas, a saint associated with the giving of gifts. Sinterklaas is depicted as wearing a long red cape, or chasuble. During the reformation, this giver of gifts was changed to the Christ child, called Christkindel. This effort to change the focus was short lived, however, because Christkindel became Kris Kringle, which brought us right back to Santa Claus.

In the 17th century, in some parts of Europe, this personification of the holidays became known as Father Christmas, and was often seen dressed in traditional garb, except it was then the color green.

In the British North American Colonies, SinterKlaas became Santa Claus and evolved into an American version of a large jolly elf. The legend became set even more with Clement Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas”, and numerous magazine illustrations by the cartoonist Thomas Nast.

The legend has become complete, with names for his reindeer, the declaration that he has a wife, that he lives at the North Pole and has a large contingent of elves working for him year round.  Santa has found his way into advertising, books, song, and movies, becoming a popular icon around the world.

He’s the perfect spokesman, giving credibility to any endorsement, no matter how naughty or nice. His image can be freely used; he requires no pay, no royalties. He bears no copyright burden and is claimed by no author.Some people have speculated that Coca Cola was the company that changed the colors of his uniform.

I would tend to think this was set in place somewhat earlier. Please have a look at the slideshow below.  With the exception of Santa and Wodin, these are all portraits of various popes of the Catholic Church over a period of several hundred years.The dates are the years in which they became pope. My theory is that the image of Santa Claus is one deliberately crafted and handed down by the Catholic Church. Think that’s farfetched? Consider that the word “Pope” means “Father”.  Our word “Christmas” literally means “Christ’s mass.”

Now, think again about one of the other names for Santa Claus: “Father Christmas.” Take a look at the previous post of that hat everyone wore during Saturnalia, the Pileus. Make it red, put some white fringe on it and a ball on top…looks like Santa’s hat to me…

All images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

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