Santa Baby… December 11, 2011Posted by Elizabeth Schechter in public displays of geekery, random thoughts.
I wrote these a couple of years ago for a Mom’s group — we were talking about Santa and someone asked where Santa came from.
Way too much information on Santa Claus!
All right. Here goes (I can’t just let research lay and wait…)
Nicholas of Myra was a 4th century Greek Christian bishop in Turkey, who was renowned for his generosity. The famous example is when he broke into the house of a poor, pious man in order to leave dowries for the man’s three daughters. Without the dowries, the three girls were going to be forced into prostitution. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, pawnbrokers and thieves(!).
Now, the gifts come in from borrowing from the Germanic traditions. In ancient Norse mythology, Odin Allfather is also called Jolnir, or the Lord of Yule. He is usually pictured as an older man with white hair and a long white beard, wearing a hat and carrying a staff.. Odin would ride his white horse, Sleipnir, across the skies on the Longest Night, and would leave gifts for the children who left treats out for Sleipnir. When the Norse became Christianized, the traditions kept on, but were assigned to Saint Nicholas, who was represented in the iconography as an older man with white hair and a long white beard. Some of the oldest images of Saint Nicholas show him wearing a hat and carrying either a staff or a spear, and riding a white horse…
When the Germanic immigrants (German, Dutch and Belgian) came to the New World, they brought those traditions with them. The modern name of Santa Claus come from the Dutch Sinterklass (Saint Nicholas). The image of Santa in red is also Dutch in origin, where they depict him as a bishop in a long red cape, wears a white bishop’s dress and red bishop’s hat.
The images of Santa Claus became unified in the US after Clement Moore wrote “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” (otherwise known as “The Night Before Christmas”) Santa’s history came from L. Frank Baum (yes, the man who wrote “The Wizard of Oz”).In 1902, he wrote “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus,” which you can now see occasionally as a Rankin-Bass Christmas special. And the very modern images of Santa are the direct result of a Coke ad from the 1930s.
You know, since I put in the anthropological Santa info, I should probably throw my two cents into the ring.
I totally believe in Santa Claus.
Now, let me back up and explain that. Santa Claus is, in my mind, an archetype. One of that timeless class of characters that lives on through the ages and shows up again and again in myth and literature. (Think Luke Skywalker and Han Solo – the innocent who becomes a hero and the rogue with a heart. Now, how many OTHER instances of hero and rogue can you come up with? See, archetypes.)
Santa is the universal father figure, the one who gives without expecting anything in return. In short, the heart and soul of the generous nature. As I pointed out in that other post, the Lord of the Yule predates Christianity by a good bit – and yet he’s STILL here. He hasn’t been abandoned the way so many of the other pagan gods have been. He’s been adapted. His name has changed, and his appearance, but I’m willing to bet the pre-Christian Norse would still recognize Jolnir. Because he’s at the heart the same. And I think he always will be part of this season, because we need him. We need that spirit of giving, because it also gives us hope.
I learned something this week. Publishing numbers are down, across the board. With one notable exception. Fantasy literature is UP. People are buying fantasy like they never have before. Quite possible because they need the escapism – why deal with things in this world when you can forget them by going to a world where things are all going to be better by the time you hit page 400?
Humanity needs faith, and it needs magic, and it needs something to believe in. It always has, and it always will. And right now, the needs are especially great, when things are so… unsettled, and we’re learning that our heroes all have feet of clay, and the ones that we’re supposed to be able to trust have been laughing at us behind our backs. I think that’s why the election went the way it did – people NEED hope. They need to believe in something.
I believe in Santa. I believe in Jolnir. And I believe that the editor of the New York Sun had it right when he wrote back to Virginia:
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.
(You can read the whole editorial here: http://www.newseum.org/yesvirginia/)