Santa's secret


The Christmas season is almost here.

While it’s quite clear that this one will be far from normal, there is one individual that will definitely crawl into our houses through the chimney (or through the taps if there is none) and leave a stash of shiny presents for the well-behaved boys and girls, and some slightly cheaper versions for the naughty ones.

Fitted with his infamous red and white outfit, his traditional bushy beard, and hopefully with a surgical mask this time around, Santa Claus defies all social distancing rules and graciously commits his special mode of home invasion (technically a felony in some places) to deliver joy to the world. After all, he comes from the North Pole where pesky viruses aren’t welcome, so he’s not likely going to be a super spreader.

But is the world safe? Does he really come from the North Pole? As far as we know, there is no home address to trace him back to, but there is a trail of breadcrumbs throughout history that paint a picture of how Santa Claus came to be the charming and slightly overweight institution we know and love today, who laughs like a tipsy grandad afar hearing a rude joke, and can squeeze himself down a small pipe without suffering life-changing injuries.

His origins are a bit fuzzy, as expected when winding back the clock over a millennium, but the first historical figure that kicks off the concept is that of Saint Nicholas of Myra, a Lycian priest known for his immeasurable generosity that was subsequently made patron saint of children. Oh, and also of pawnbrokers, so perhaps we can imagine where all the presents are coming from.

Santa with presents

 On the 6th of December, name day of Saint Nicholas, presents were given to children in his honor. This date later moved to the 24th – 25th of December due to various religious comings and goings during the 16th Century, bringing the day to the one we celebrate today.

As the centuries went by, the concept of Santa Claus began taking shape and some of his more emblematic traits started to emerge .However, depending on who you asked, he could have a completely different appearance and methods of gift delivery. Some portrayed him in red robes, others in green ones. Some thought he was fat, others slim. Some swore he always rode a sleigh pulled by reindeer, others that he did his deeds on foot. 

The publication of an anonymous poem called “The Night Before Christmas” in 1823 began developing a more long-lasting foundation for the myth, calling Santa such things as "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" with "a little round belly", that "shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly", and in 1863, the American cartoonist Thomas Nast created and popularized the classic image of the white-bearded, red-suited, stocky and endearing folk hero that has survived into modern times. 

A few years down the line, more elements were added to the mythos, like his residence in the North Pole, and the fact that he was immortal, elevating him to a supernatural being. A common misconception that likely originated around this time is that the Coca-Cola Company not only invented Santa’s red suit, but invented the character altogether. The reality is that by then, the character was already well-established, and it had already been used in advertisements many years earlier by other companies.

Santa’s secret is that there isn’t a real origin of the Santa Claus that resides in the collective consciousness of the world. He is a gestalt entity created over centuries by the many cultures that have embraced him as the way to make kids behave during the year, and to keep them entertained with presents during Christmas day when the adults in the room have had too many drinks. A noble purpose if there ever was one.

Merry Christmas everybody!

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