Christmas Customs: Santa Claus
Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus ....
Ever wonder how a fat man in a red and white suit came to be a central figure in the Christmas celebrations? People in Santa suits are everywhere at Christmas time -- in malls listening to little children, on TV exhorting us to buy and buy, on street corners eliciting charity.
Santa Claus is based upon a real figure. Bishop Nicholas was a devoted Christian about 1 700 years ago in what is now Turkey. He was reputed to be especially kind to children and the poor. Because he did not wish recognition for his good deeds, he often distributed gifts under cover of the night.
A famous story about St. Nicholas, is about a poor man who had no money to give to his three daughters on their wedding day. St Nick dropped bags of gold into the stockings which the girls had left to dry by the fire. The sisters found the gold and ever since, children have hung up stockings on Christmas Eve hoping that they will be filled with presents by Christmas morning.
The Dutch are generally credited with popularizing the gift giving Christmas figure as Sinter Klaas(Santa Claus) who rode a magical white horse and distributed gifts to good little boys and girls. He was accompanied by Zwarte Piet(Black Peter) who carried the book of deeds. If the children had been bad, they would wake up to a piece of coal in their shoes instead of a treat. In some versions, the naughty children would be beaten as well.
When Dutch settlers came to N. America, Zwart Piet was left behind in favour of a more benign Sinter Klaas. By the mid 1800s, an image of a jolly, round elf was generally accepted. In 1931 an effective ad campaign by Coca Cola forever cemented the image of a jolly, fat man in a red and white suit in N. America.
Whether he is known as St. Nick, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas or Santa Claus, he is a welcome, cheery figure in the Christmas Customs.