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Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse.
This brilliantly composed poem by Clement Clarke Moore and first published in 1823 laid the groundwork and mental paint strokes for many of us in our earliest memories of what we believed Santa Claus to be. It told of a bespectacled and heavy-set man with white hair and beard delivering presents to children after plummeting down a chimney. He was jolly and merry and in a big red fur suit trimmed in white. He smoked a pipe and when he laughed – Ho-ho-ho — his belly shook like…jelly. Artist Thomas Nast’s famous depiction of Santa Claus in 1863 is how most of us visualize the jolly man. Both Moore and Nast worked in New York.
Moore’s inspiration for the poem was a combination. One was St. Nicholas, a fourth-century bishop known for his kindness with gift-giving and leaving presents in stockings. The other was Sinter Klaas, the Dutch version of St. Nicholas. He was merged a bit with Oden, the Pagan god of Yule, who took to the skies on an eight-legged horse. Moore dressed up the Santa character even more with American fur, a pipe, and described him as an elf with dimples and a twinkle in his eye. He put a sack full of toys on his back for the children he would deliver to. Moore also gave Santa a sleigh that was pulled by a number of reindeer. Can you name all of them? A featured sleigh-puller, Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, was actually added to the Santa mystique in 1939 by Robert Lewis May, and has been portrayed in many Christmas specials through the years… and was even put on a postage stamp at one time.
Parting from Moore’s one-night story of the jolly old elf, a further background check on Santa reveals that – except for delivering presents to children around the world as they sleep on the night of Christmas Eve – he lives all year round in the North Pole, which is really, really cold. He lives there with Mrs. Claus, who makes cookies and cares for the reindeer. No one knows her first name for sure, but through the years, she has been dubbed by many as Mary, Gertrude and Carol. Personally, I think she looks more like a Martha. And in the Santa household is a large workshop where many small elves work together to produce toys for boys and girls who were good throughout the year. They were children on Santa’s Nice list. If you were on the Naughty list, you might receive a piece of coal or nothing at all. So, as the song goes… You better be nice.
Santa, himself, has taken on different names through the years – St. Nick, Kris Kringle, Pelznickel, Father Christmas, Father Frost. But the name Santa Claus was actually derived from Sinter Klaas, which, as mention earlier, came from the Dutch and was a shortened version of St. Nicholas.
Here is how Santa is known in other countries:
Christkind or Kris Kringle delivers presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children.
In Scandinavia, Jultomten delivers gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats.
There’s Father Christmas in Britain.
Pere Noel is responsible for filling the shoes of French children.
Babouschka visits Russian children and leaves gifts at their bedsides.
Joulupukki is a Finnish (or Finland) Christmas figure. The name “Joulupukki” actually means “Christmas goat” or “Yule Goat.”
Now in Italy…. Well, In Italy, it’s different, but similar. The story there is that a woman called La Befana, is a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into the stockings of lucky children.
We have all heard the many songs about Santa and watched many of the television specials featuring him. But there are also
many fascinating stories about him that have been told through the years that you might not have heard. In one, he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married. Through the years, he also became known as the protector of children and sailors. His protection for the sailors was stirred after the Christian Saint Nicolas prayed after severe storms had claimed the life of a sailor around the year 312. Quickly, the storms quieted and sailors were able to complete their tasks on the seas.
In another story, St. Nicholas punched a guy for claiming that Jesus wasn’t equal to God.
At the Council of Nicea, where the Church’s doctrine on the nature of Jesus Christ was formulated, Nicholas defended the concept of Christ being the same as God. The heretical Arius, however, claimed that Jesus was not fully divine, but just a really, really good man who became sort of god-like.
An enraged Nicholas, got up and smacked Arius a good one upside the head.
Santa Claus looked quite different in the beginning, as he was often drawn wearing the colors of green – a far cry from the red outfit most of us associate with him today. And since most of his visual origins came from the Dutch, he was often displayed in sailor’s apparel. But the red, furry outfit became the popular choice when he was first shown wearing it on a Christmas card in 1885.
Santa quickly took on some magical abilities. One would certainly consider delivering presents to all the world’s children in a single night pretty magical. But he could also just nod his head and get up the chimney in the blink of an eye. The magic here might be in reducing his rather portly physique to get up those chimneys. He probably used that method on the way down, as well.
The fantastical works of Santa were so prominent, that back in 1891 he was even featured on some of the currency produced by the United States Treasury.
Since then, the Santa phenomena has grown tremendously. Even NORAD – or the North American Aerospace Defense Command – has taken a piece of it to call their own. Every year since the Christmas Eve of 1955, NORAD “tracks” Santa from when he leaves the North Pole to all his locations throughout the world.
According to stories about NORAD’s involvement, back in the 50s a Sears Department Store placed an ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper that listed a number for children to call to talk to Santa Claus. Well, someone goofed, and the wrong number by one digit was printed instead. That number belonged to the Continental Air Defense Command. Colonel Harry Shoup was a crew commander on duty and took one of the first calls from children wanting to speak to Santa. He then reported told his entire staff to give a “current location” to all the children who phoned in. This turned out to be so popular, that NORAD kept the event… and tradition… going through all these years.
Most postal services allow letters from children to be sent to Santa. The Canadian postal service receives millions of Santa letters every year, and many postal workers and volunteers have given their time to respond to a great number of those letters.
Perhaps one of the most poignant yet hopeful pieces ever written about Santa Claus was a correspondence between a young girl, named Virginia, and a veteran newsman named Francis Church of the New York Sun in September of 1897.
Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote a letter to the editor of the Sun, which read:
DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.
Church responded to Virginia very quickly on the newspaper’s editorial page by saying:
VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.
That’s all for today. We hope you’ve enjoyed our story of Santa Claus. By the way, his reindeer’s names are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Did you get them all right? Don’t forget to like us and be sure to subscribe. Get addicted to the good stuff.