No matter your religion, if you live somewhere other than the depths of the Amazon rainforest, you have heard of a jolly older gentleman named Santa Claus (although it is possible that Santa Claus has reached those sultry depths by now). Or perhaps you know him by his aliases, Saint Nicholas or Father Christmas.
You may also know that Santa (he’s on first name basis with his friends) lives at the North Pole with his wife, Mrs. Claus, and countless elves who build toys year-round to deliver to good children all over the world via reindeer-pulled sleigh. (If you’ve been bad, you’ll be lucky to receive a lump of coal rather than a birch switch...) You can probably pick Santa out in a crowd: a bright red suit trimmed with white fur, impressive physical bulk (although considering all the treats and tipples he consumes, he’s practically svelte), an splendid white mustache-beard combination that strikes a nostalgic chord.
But Santa’s image, cherished for years, is actually a composite of several traditions from different regions of the world. Look, we’re not saying that Santa isn’t real (what is “real,” anyway?), but he certainly did not spring fully-formed from the ice packs in the North Pole, intent on bestowing upon you the latest iPad (you have been very good this year).
Santa has had quite a history and boasts quite the résumé: representing modern drink companies, living in medieval Italian cities, collecting funds for charity, and fulfilling the inventory for the wish lists of millions of children. He has been at the forefront of the so-called “War on Christmas” and served as a symbol of peace and goodwill, both domestically and overseas.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
Like many of our rituals and traditions today, Santa’s legend is rooted in religion. But civilization has a way of adapting ancient folklore to society’s modern needs, and Santa is no exception. Most of us don’t fill our shoes with sugar lumps and carrots and put them under the chimney for Odin’s magnificent flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat as he leads his horseman through a great expedition across the sky; instead, we hang stockings. Most mall Santas don’t wear bishops’ hats; their attire is red, not green. Rudolph and his iconic glowing nose debuted in Santa’s entourage a hundred years after the other eight reindeer.
But there are some fundamental elements of the Santa folklore that remain constant. The spirit of Christmas, a time of celebration, warmth, generosity, commercialism, and, thankfully, a little magic, are embodied in one iconic figure with “a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.” Santa has had a colorful and sometimes controversial past: his modern image is part god, part saint, part political symbol, part salesman. Who knows how Santa will evolve (will he ever outsource his toy-making? Rig a jet-powered sleigh, perhaps? Employ the latest teleportation technology?), but he’ll always be a part of Christmas.
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Background and Basics
+ The Evolution of Christmas
Analysis and Commentary
+ Santa and His Pagan Roots
+ Santa's Modern Life and Trappings
Santa's Ripple Effect
+ The Making of Toys
+ Santa Science, Proprietary Poetry, and the Song You Can't Forget
A Story That Continues to Write Itself
+ A Brief History of Christmas
+ The Narrative Becomes More Complex: The Advent of the Grinch
+ Christmas Woes and Answered Wishes
Lily is very close to finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Oxford. She also has an utterly non-lucrative Masters of Fine Arts in poetry. "Lily McNeil" is used as a pseudonym at the author's request.