Friday, December 24, 2010

Saint Nick

Just one small side note from the topic a little: I looked back, way back, to my first post. It was December 23, 2009; I have been blogging now for over a year. Some things are the same, like Word underlining the word blog as misspelled. Some are different. Regardless I still love doing this, and plan to keep it up for another year, and beyond. I hope that you, my readers, will stick with me.

Up until now I’ve tried to be very balanced with my posts. As surprising as it may be, not everyone in the world celebrates Christmas, so doing a post with a Christmas undertone is a bit tough for me.

I do celebrate Christmas, but I’m actually also Jewish, and celebrated Chanukah earlier this month as well. So, before I start this post I would like to say not everyone celebrates the same holidays here; in fact I had one friend describe this week as tough because of how Christmas oriented it is. Turn on the TV and you get Christmas movies, shows, advertisements and music. This is why I say “Happy Holidays” as the universal greeting this time of year; it encompasses everyone.

But when I got on to search for historical events this week I found this and couldn’t resist.

December 24 many children will go to sleep with visions of Sugar Plums dancing in their heads, listening intently for the sound of reindeer on their roofs and the impression that Santa Clause is coming to their town. For all who celebrate Christmas, Santa is a man with a big beard who comes down the chimney and leaves you all the presents you asked for. Santa also lives in the North Pole with his elves, his reindeer and his sleigh. But where did the idea of Santa really come from?

St. Nicholas was originally a monk born around 280 C.E. in modern Turkey. St. Nicholas was known for his kindness; it is rumored he gave away all his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. The best-known story of the time was how St. Nicholas saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery by providing them with a dowry.

Nicholas became known as the protector of children and sailors over time. St. Nicholas’ feast day is celebrated December 6, and on this day it was considered lucky to make large purchases or get married. By the Renaissance St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. St. Nicholas remained popular even after the Protestant Reformation, especially in Holland.

St. Nicholas’ popularity spread to the United States towards the end of the 18th century. The name Santa Clause originated from the Dutch nickname Sinter Klaas. The Dutch living in New York gathered to celebrate his death an event documented in several New York newspapers.

In 1804 woodcarvings of Santa were distributed at the New York Historical Society. These woodcuts included images of Santa with stockings filled with toys and candy. Santa’s fame only increased from there.

Santa’s importance increased especially for children in the early 19th century. With the rise of magazines and other media, advertisers slowly began to expand Christmas’ importance. Stores began advertising for Christmas shopping in the 1820s; by the 1940s separate advertisements were created for Christmas shopping. Santa became a draw to different stores, luring in kinds for a glimpse of a live Santa. I personally think it was the rise of this consuming society that brought a rise of Santa over time.

Other countries had their own Santa’s as well. Cristkind or Kris Kringle delivered presents to well-behaved Swiss and German kids. In Scandinavia a jolly elf named Jultomten delivered gifts in a sleigh drawn by goats. In English legend Father Christmas who filled stockings on Christmas Eve. Pere Noel (translation Father Christmas) has a similar role in France.

A Russian story tells of a woman named Babouschka who gave the three wise men wrong directions on purpose so they wouldn’t find Jesus. Later she felt remorseful but could not undo the damage. On January 5 she visits children leaving gifts in hopes of undoing the damage. A similar story exists in Italy where a witch rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys into stockings of lucky children.

Today Santa is in every mall, in commercials and even drinks Coca-Cola. He is pat of the American culture, just like Christmas.

I’m going to finish off this post by wishing everyone a very Happy Holiday Season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah or anything (or nothing) in between I hope you have had time with your families to celebrate. Because ultimately, I think that is the most important thing.

Happy History to all, and to all a Good Night!

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