Volume 12 Week 5

Wednesday, April 16


 

Updated March 14

Updated April 8

Posted April 2


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(Posted 10:30 p.m., Dec 24)
Legend of Santa Claus a mix of fact and fiction

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

He may be little more than a myth to millions of people around the world, but the legend that is Santa Claus is actually based on a real person.

The real-life St. Nicholas lived during the fourth century AD in what is now modern-day Turkey. As the bishop of Myra, the real Nicholas reputedly gave marriage dowries of gold to three girls whom poverty would otherwise have forced into slavery.

Nicholas’ miracles also included restoring the lives of three children who had been chopped up by a butcher and placed in brine, and saving the lives of sailors by halting a storm at sea.

By the Middle Ages, devotion to the patron saint of children and sailors stretched throughout much of Europe and Russia.

After the Reformation, devotion to St. Nicholas died out in all the Protestant countries of Europe except Holland. There his legend lived on as Sinterklaas.

When the Dutch first settled in the New World in the 17th century, they brought their devotion to Sinterklass with them. Before long Sinterklass became Santa Claus and the legend of St. Nicholas was coloured with Nordic tales of a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good children with presents.

The jolly old elf we celebrate today was sealed in our collective imagination after poet Clement Moore penned the now famous ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, as a gift to his family in 1822.

In the poem, Santa is portrayed as a rotund elf with a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. Rudolph was actually a 1939 creation of the Montgomery Ward advertising department.

Moore actually borrowed some of his concept of Santa Claus from earlier writers such as Washington Irving who penned A History of New York in 1807, in which St. Nicholas rode over the treetops in a wagon.

In 1821, William Gilley wrote a poem about “Santeclaus” who was dressed in fur and drove a sleigh driven by a single reindeer.

It was Moore’s poem, however, that would inspire caricaturist Thomas Nast to come up with the image we’ve come to associate with the present day Santa Claus.

Nast’s engravings featuring a portly Santa in a red suit with a wide black belt ran in the American magazine Harper’s Weekly between 1863 and 1886.
The engravings featured Santa in a workshop, reading letters, checking his list and so on.

In 1885, Nast fixed Santa’s address with a drawing of two children looking at a map of the world on which Santa’s journey was etched from the North Pole to the United States.

Santa’s final transformation evolved through a series of Coca-Cola ads illustrated by Haddon Sundblom from 1931 to 1964.

Coca-Cola still holds the trademark for their Santa design and Christmas ads featuring Sundblom’s Santa continue to this day.

As for Santa’s elves, their origin is murkier, although Europe’s Christkindlein, or Christ child, travelled with dwarf-like helpers while delivering gifts in secret to children.

The idea of Santa delivering gifts at night has also been adopted throughout the world, although his delivery methods differ from culture to culture.

In countries like Holland and Spain, children leave their shoes under the tree filled with hay and sugar for Santa’s horses. When the horses have their fill, the children are repayed with gifts.

In Sweden, a reindeerless Santa has to pull his sack of gifts through the snow.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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