Santa Claus-The evolution of a popular legend
the most visible symbols of the Christmas and New Year season is Santa
Claus. His plump and cheerful frame in bright red suit trimmed with white
fur, with a full, white beard and carrying a sack laden with gifts for
children has become an indispensable component of the festivities.
Santa Claus as we know him today is the
product of a many — stranded legend that has evolved over the centuries. The
primary roots can be traced to a monk, St Nicholas who was born in around
280 AD in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. He was noted for his piety
and kindness towards the poor and needy. December 6 is dedicated as his Day.
Let us see how his life became the possible origin for the colourful Santa
who regales children at seasonal parties and shopping malls.
Tradition has it that St Nicholas’ wealthy
parents died in an epidemic while he was quite young. When he grew up, he
travelled the countryside to help the poor and needy, using his inherited
wealth. He did this quietly by dropping small bags of gold coins down the
chimneys of the poor.
One of the best-known instances is that of
his saving three poor sisters from being sold into slavery by their father,
by providing them with a dowry to enable them to get married. In course of
time, Nicholas' popularity grew steadily. He was considered the patron saint
of children, bakers, merchants and mariners. His Day, December 6th, was
looked upon as a lucky time to make large purchases or to get married.
The term Santa Claus in all probability
evolved from the Dutch name, Sinter Klaas, a modified form of Saint Nikolaas.
Towards the end of the 18th century, Dutch settlers brought the legend to
America where he became Santa Claus. Incidentally, the name has variations
in other parts of the world. For instance, it is Shengdan Laoren in China,
Pere Noel in France, Kris Kringle in Germany and Papa Noel in Spain.
In 1809, the well-known American writer
Washington Irving popularised the Santa tale by referring to St Nicholas as
the patron saint of New York in his book. But the modern comprehensive image
surfaced from the creative imagination of Clement Clarke Moore. In 1822, he
wrote a long Christmas poem The Night Before Christmas to entertain his
Initially, he had no intention to publish
the poem and had to be persuaded by his friends. It became a roaring success
as it captured the imagination of children and established the lovable
figure of Santa Claus who has the supernatural ability to travel across the
globe in a 8- reindeer drawn sleigh and ascend a chimney to leave gifts for
The visual illustration of such a Santa by
the famous cartoonist Thomas Nast further reinforced the image. George
Webster contributed the idea that Santa's headquarters was at the North
Pole. Mrs Santa Claus was created in 1889 by the writer Katherine Lee Bates.
Rudolph, the ninth and "the most famous
red-nosed reindeer of all," was born over a hundred years later in 1939 in a
story-poem by Robert L May, a copywriter at the Montgomery Ward department
store, who used it as a successful ploy to attract more customers. In 1931,
the soft drink giant Coca-Cola launched a massive Christmas ad campaign
firmly establishing the Santa image in the unmistakable the all-red outfit
with white trimmings. The ads featuring a human-size Santa drinking Coke ran
for the next 35 years!
In 1994, Santa went hi-tech when he
acquired a website of his own (http://www.santaclaus.com/), the first Santa
specific website domain on the Internet. Santa also got an e-mail ID the
same year (email@example.com). Today many dedicated websites and groups
and children’s e-mails addressed to him are answered promptly.
In countries like Canada and the USA there
are ‘Santa Schools’ that offer thorough professional courses to turn out
smart Santas for the festive season. For instance, the school founded by
Victor Nevada, uses a 535 page comprehensive manual All About Being Santa
for the purpose.
An institution that calls itself the
International University of Santa Claus (IUSC) conducts short term but high
profile workshops in many parts of the world. It offers exciting leadership
training programmes based on the best selling book, The Leadership Secrets
of Santa Claus.
The growth and evolution of the legend of
Santa Claus must of course be seen in the right perspective. But the joy and
mirth it provides to children and the young at heart is a welcome
experience. In addition, the original message from the life of St Nicholas,
to render selfless assistance to the less privileged ones around us, gets
reinforced by the magnanimous and generous Santa Claus. If this can spur us
into thoughtful deeds of kindness and compassion, our festivities gain real
A few quotes:
n Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can
see. — Mark Twain
n When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire
kind people. — Abraham J Heschel
n Real generosity is doing something nice for someone who will never find
out. — Frank A Clark
n Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much. — Blaise Pascal