The History of Santa Claus

Like our previous post about Krampus, Santa Claus also has a long (but much nicer) history.  Today he is commonly thought of as a “right jolly old elf” who is often dressed in red and delivers presents to the good children of the world on Christmas Eve every year in a sleigh pulled by magical reindeer.  This imagery has been an evolution that can be traced back to the 3rd century.

The legend of Santa Claus has often been thought to have started hundreds of years ago with a monk named Saint Nicholas near what is now Turkey.  It is said that this original St. Nicholas gave away his wealth and went around helping others whenever he could and quickly become renowned for his kindness.  After his death on December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas became a popular occasion and often considered a lucky day.

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The original Saint Nicholas

Later during the Renaissance era, Saint Nicholas was the most popular saint, even after the Protestant Reformation when the worship of saints fell out of favor, especially in Germany and Holland.

Saint Nicholas made his first American appearance during the late 18th century.  In 1773, a New York newspaper wrote a story about several Dutch families that celebrated the Feast of St. Nicholas.  The name Santa Claus is derived from the Dutch “Sinter Klass”.  The poem Twas the Night Before Christmas was written in 1822 by Clement Clarke Moore and helped solidify the figure of Santa Claus as a Christmas icon. In 1881, Thomas Nast of political cartoon fame came up with one of the earliest American representations of Santa Claus and has changed very little since.

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Thomas Nast’s interpretation of Santa from 1881.  This would forever become the traditional image of Santa Claus.

Santa has been a well-known figure all over the world, although he is known by different names in different countries.  Kris Kringle is the German Santa Claus, while in Scandinavia he is called Jultomten, Pere Noel is his French name, and he becomes Father Christmas in England.

Whatever you may call him, we hope that the Christmas season brings forth wonderful memories past and present that envelope the true meaning of the season for you and your families and that Santa continues to hold a special place in your heart.

 

 

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The Darker Side of Christmas…

The Christmas season is filled with joy, magic, and childhood delight; however, what about the darker side of Christmas?  Many have heard of the legend of Krampus.  He is the counterpart to the jolly Saint Nicolas that we have all come to love and know as Santa.  Like most stories designed to terrify small children, the legend of Krampus has its origins in Europe, mainly in Germany, Austria, Hungary, and the Czech Republic.  The brothers Grimm’s original fairy tales were far more gruesome than anything written for children today, with children losing limbs and even dying as the conclusion to their tales.  The legend of Krampus is in the same vein of bizarre, morbid, and terrifying.  Older versions of Krampus depict him as a demon with fur, horns, cloven hooves, sharp fangs, and a long pointed tongue.  He often was seen with a large bundle of birch branches known as a ruhen that he would use to beat the children that had been bad during the year while Santa rewarded the good children.  He is also commonly seen with chains that he rattles around to signify his approach.  There are even images of Krampus with an old basin or sack he carried around in order to haul bad children off to Hell where he would eat them.  Pretty intense for Christmas time!

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Santa rewarding a good child & a repentant child pleading with Krampus 

Krampus is thought to originally have his roots in pagan tradition and be at least loosely based on a pagan spirit.  He is also thought to be an interpretation of the Norse god, Hel, the god of the Underworld.

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A bad child being stuffed into Krampus’ basket to be taken awhile, while a good child enjoys her gift.

As early as the 1800s, Christmas cards depicting Krampus were often sent out during the holiday season with the salutation: “gruss von Krampus” or “greetings from Krampus” in German.  Many Alpine towns have celebrated Krampus during Krampusnacht or Krampus Night, which is a celebration early in December that preceded the Feast of Saint Nicolas.  Today still, there are many festivals to celebrate Krampus with people dressed as the hooved Demon and chasing people through the streets in good “fun”.  At various points in history, the legend of Krampus has been suppressed.  The Catholic Church outlawed portrayals and celebrations of the demonic beast at one point.  During WWII, the Fascist party in Europe inhibited the legend of Krampus, claiming it was a fabrication of socialist Democrats.

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Greeting card image portraying Krampus carrying off an ill-behaved child.

The United States has more recently become familiar with Krampus and his infamy.  The current bah humbug, “Festivus” trend in pop culture, complete with ugly Christmas sweaters and anti-Christmas parties has led to a resurgence in Krampus’ popularity.  While Krampus festivities have not reached European-level proportions, America is slowly embracing this wicked side of Christmas.  There is even a Christmas horror movie that was released earlier this month titled Krampus, only further solidifying his presence as a Christmas figure.

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A bad child being punished by Krampus

During the Christmas season, please remember to be nice rather than naughty in order to avoid a visit from Santa’s old world German companion!

Sources for this post:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krampus
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/12/131217-krampus-christmas-santa-devil/
http://www.krampusfest.com/origin.htm
http://thefairytaletraveler.com/2013/12/21/the-dark-side-of-christmas-the-legend-of-krampus/