Who is Santa Claus?

By Sergio González | 10:15
Santa figures in jail

What are the charges? Being lovely or sneaking into your house while you sleep?

Who is Santa Claus? He seems to be as old and legitimate as the Tooth Fairy or Leprechauns, but is he really? How old would you say he is?

Santa Claus is often regarded as a USA invention thanks to the worldwide marketing power of American culture but the truth is Santa’s story is a worldwide tale. We all have contributed to this global pop figure, Christmas after Christmas, carried out by the good vibes of gifting. Don’t you feel wonderful after seeing a beloved person’s positive reaction to your present? 

There are many tales being told here and there about Santa’s origins, everyone is claiming a little piece of the great pudding but his figure has as many followers as detractors. Which one are you? Do you think he’s a lovely grandpa type or a commercial upstar trying to put old traditions away?

 Santa Claus would need a couple of Catholic Saints, the story-telling expertise of oral German folklore and American entrepreneurial spirit to be alive. To be better grasped, Santa’s story should be told backwards.

A fat, thick-bearded old man was the illustration drawn in 1860’s by Thomas Nast, also an author of the Republican Elephant and considered the father of American cartoons.

Were sure you’ve heard Coca-Cola made Santa wear red to match their brand. Despite all the commercialization of Santa Claus, it isn’t true. You can see Nast ‘s drawings here and also here, created around twenty years before Mr. Pemberton opened his pharmacy in Atlanta.

Nast was already famous at that time –also when Santa moved to the North Pole– and the idelistic version suggested some years before by Clement C. Moore’s poem A Visit from St. Nicholas was everything needed for American to fall for Santa.

Playing rewind, we see both artists basing their works in St. Nicholas tradition, brought to America by German and Dutch descendants.

A joyful caring man delivering gifts to the children around the beginning of winter is a common tale among Germanic and Celtic cultures. The Dutch Sinteerklaas, the German Weihnnachtsmann or the Scandinavian Tomte are expressions of the same reality. Even English Father Winter is based on Saxon traditions, as many other features of British culture.

Did the Germans make St. Nicholas out of nothing? Obviously not. It’s supported on their own pagan folklore and the Catholic Saints devotion spread by the Church of Rome.

Santa figure riding a motor-bike

Have you been good this year? He’s already heading o your town!

These are the two leading legends claiming to be the first real Santa Claus, St Nicholas of Myra for Catholics and Protestants and St Basil of Caesarea for Orthodox believers. Both lived about the same time around 4th century AD and in the same region of Byzantine Empire, current Turkey. They also share myths of great charity and food gifting to the poor. Who to choose it’s your call!

Basil rests peacifully in Caesarea but to see the remains of Nicholas you’ll have to book to Bari, in Italy, because in an attemp to improve their income and join Middle-Ages profitable pilgrimages, their citizens decided to plunder his tomb and bring the gold mine home.

All around Europe, we find similar stories of all sorts of people – Olentzero wood-cutter for Basque people, Befana witch for Italians…- bringing presents for good kids and coal or vinegar for the bad ones, but it was Germanic tradition that has evolved Santa Claus into a modern day tradition. 

Actually, there are historians who trace Santa back to the very beginning of History, as he’s Odin, the almighty Viking God of gods. Around winter solstice midnight, Odin parts for a great hunting in the stars riding his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. Kids who placed their shoes on windows filled up with carrots and straw for the good old Sleipnir were rewarded by Odin with candy. 

This need to provide sustenance for gift-givers or their rides is a constant presence in every single story, even for the Catholic Three Wise Men or the many elves or Krampus that follow Nöel. I’d keep that in mind this Christmas, just in case.

-Mam? Dad?- the kid’s voice couldn’t sound more worried -we don’t have a chimney! How is Santa going to give us our presents?-. An innocent question many parents face during Christmas time year after year. Well, there’s no need to worry if we stick to the original tales. How about you? Do you believe in Santa Claus? 

Photo Credit: kevin dooley

Photo Credit: zanastardust

  • posted by Mir Resorts | 10 December 2012, 13:10,

    Thanks for sharing the knowledge

  • posted by Courtney Imel | 11 December 2012, 18:36,

    Thanks for the comment! We’re glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂


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