Santa Claus “Family Tree”

Today is Christmas and therefore I thought
it might be a good idea to give you sort of a family tree of Santa Claus. Because Santa
Claus is a figure that has evolved over the centuries, I thought it would be interesting
to look into some of the history behind the fellow we now associate with ho ho ho. Let’s start with this individual here – Saint
Nicholas. I think most people are aware of the fact that Santa Claus has a strong association
with this historical person. That’s why Santa is often called Jolly Old Saint Nick.
But the real Saint Nicholas lived about 1700 years ago in a city called Myra, which is
today in Turkey but at the time would have been a part of the Roman Empire. His parents
were quite rich and after they died, he supposedly used their wealth to show generosity to the
poor. So eventually he became a saint associated with gift giving and he ended up with his
own feast day, which was celebrated by giving gifts. This continued for quite some time but then
during the Protestant reformation in Germany, things changed. Protestants aren’t supposed
to venerate saints so since the Feast of Saint Nicholas happened to occur around the same
time Christmas, the custom of gift giving was simply moved to Dec. 25th instead. And
since Christmas is all about the birth of Jesus, the gift giver was changed from Saint
Nicholas to a Christ child. In German, the word is this, which in America was mispronounced
as Kris Kringle, which is why to this day, Kris Kringle remains one of the alternate
named for Santa Claus. But in many countries, it was really hard
for people to give up the association between Saint Nicholas and giving gifts, especially
to children. So in the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas crept back into Christmas traditions
and became known as Sinterklaas. Meanwhile, in Great Britain, a different tradition had
evolved. There, they had a Winter figure called Father Christmas who was originally more associated
with drinking and adult partying. He was likely a leftover from the pre-Christian days when
the god Odin was associated with a winter festival called Yule. So basically what happened was that, in America,
during the mid 1800’s, these two traditions – the Dutch “Sinterklaas” tradition
and the British “Father Christmas” tradition merged into a new figure known as Santa Claus.
The name and the gift-giving part came from Sinterklaas but the jolly fat guy part came
from Father Christmas. It was a slow process but if we had to choose
one date for the birth of the modern Santa, that date should probably be 1863. It was
that year that Thomas Nast, now known as the “Father of the American cartoon” had this
drawing of Santa appear on the front cover of Harper’s Weekly. This and other depictions
of Santa by Thomas Nast became the basis for all other future depictions of Santa and of
the traditions surrounding him, such as the one that says he lives at the North Pole. Then, of course, in the 1930’s, the Coca-Cola
Company started to use Santa in their advertizing. No, they did not invent Santa but they did
help make him even more popular. Before we go, there’s one more figure sometimes
associated with Santa that I’d like to mention and that’s Jack Frost. He’s based on the
many related “Old Man Winter” traditions from across Europe. But he’s less of the
embodiment of Christmas and happy times and more simply the embodiment of cold and ice.
He’s not necessarily a bad guy – he’s just, well, Wintery. The Old Man Winter tradition
is particularly popular in Slavic countries. In Russia, they have a Santa-like figure called
Ded Moroz, which literally means “Grandfather Frost”. He’s based on a mythological wizard
named Morozko who was in charge of all things Winter-related. So that was a quick look at the evolution
of Santa Claus. Hope you’ve had a happy holiday. I look forward to sharing more videos
with you in 2020. Thanks for watching.

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