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Santa Claus

For places in the United States with this name see Santa Claus, Arizona[?], Santa Claus, Georgia and Santa Claus, Indiana.


Santa Claus (also known as Father Christmas) is the American variant of the European folk myth[?] of Saint Nicholas, explaining the source of Christmas presents given to children on Christmas Day. Conventionally, he is portrayed as a kindly, round bellied, merry bespectacled man in a red suit trimmed with white fur, with a long white beard. On Christmas eve, he rides in his flying sleigh (pulled by reindeer) from house to house to give presents to children. During the rest of the year, he lives at the Finnish Lapland, North Pole, Dalarna or in Sweden (traditions vary) together with his wife, Mrs. Claus, and his elves who serve as his toy production staff. One of Santa Claus' reindeer, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, has been immortalized in a song which is frequently played at Christmas.

Amongst many adults the nonexistence of Claus is a given, but many young children believe strongly in his existence. A majority of parents, at least in English-speaking households that celebrate Christmas, either actively attempt to convince their children of Santa's existence, or at least keep the source of their children's presents a secret from them and so fail to disprove the myth. Children who believe in the existence of Claus often tend to lose such beliefs by early primary school, as their ability to distinguish fantasy from reality improves and older children disillusion them.

Traditionally, the names of his reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen with Rudolph being the lead reindeer. The names, outside Rudolph, were invented in a poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas[?]", ascribed to Clement Moore[?], although there is some question as to his authorship. It is suspected that the names Donner and Blitzen come from the German phrase Donner und Blitze which means Thunder and Lightning. An alternative explanation is that Donder is the original name of the seventh reindeer, as Donder und Blitzen is Dutch for Thunder and Lightning. The reindeer are traditionally pictured with antlers, although true reindeer shed their antlers in the winter.

Many Christian churches dislike the secular focus on Santa and the materialist focus that present-giving gives to the holiday. They would prefer that focus be given to the birth of Jesus, their nominal reason for the Christmas celebration. It should be noted that the festivities at this time of year are predated by the pagan Yule festivals[?] which were subsumed within Christianity.

A history of Santa Claus was written by L. Frank Baum, the same man who wrote the Wizard of Oz. However, the historical basis for Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas of Myra.

Historically, one of the first artists to capture Santa Claus' image as we know him today was Thomas Nast, a cartoonist of the 19th century. In 1863, a picture of Santa appeared in Harper's Weekly by Nast. The Coca-Cola Company featured in its advertising a Santa Claus designed by artist Haddon Sundblom, which helped to popularize the design of Santa that Moore and Nast originated. To this day Santa Claus still appears on Coca-Cola products each year around Christmastime.

When the Dutch still owned the land that later became New York, they brought the Saint Nicholas' eve legend with them to the Americas; however without the red mantle and other symbols. Note that in Dutch, the feast is called 'sinterklaas feest', it celebrates the birthday of sinterklaas.

Sinterklaas was Americanized to Santa Claus, and was at first pictured as a thick bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat. Santa Claus appeared in various colored costumes, but red soon became popular after he appeared wearing such on an 1885 Christmas card. The horse was converted to reindeers and a sleigh. The black peters (which are in fact Moorish slaves) were converted to elves, and in an attempt to move the origin of the festivities away from their pagan background to a more Christian one, the date was moved a few weeks to the celebrated day of the birth of Jesus, Christmas.

Bibliography

Siefker, Phyillis: Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men. The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years. Jefferson (North Carolina): McFarland, 1996. (Website about the book. (http://www.grapevine.net/~kic/))

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