Monday, November 24, 2014

Santas of the World

Continuing with the research for my Christmas I themed article, I read George Ouwendijk's Santas of the World. This is another kid's book, meaning it was a really easy read. It goes through mostly European and North American countries, explaining the differences in what people believe concerning Christmas ideas on gift-givers. I found the book really interesting (although a lot of the facts were similar to the ones in The Truth About Santa Claus). Together, both books were good reads, particularly for the article I'm writing. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Truth About Santa Claus

I decided to write a Christmas-themed article for work.  So that meant I needed to find some books on Christmas.  One of the ones I found and read is The Truth About Santa Claus by James Cross Giblin.  This is an older book (from 1985), but it still seemed pretty good, giving a great history of how the Santa Claus we know today evolved.

The Truth About Santa Claus is divided into seven chapters.  It starts off looking at St. Nicholas, both the man (what little we know of him), and the saint who was a miracle-maker.  There was a really neat story about St. Nicholas anonymously giving money to a poor man for his daughters' dowries so the man wouldn't have to sell one (or all?) of them into slavery.  It was stories like this that led to the idea of St. Nickolas as a gift-giver.

People in England stopped worshipping St. Nicholas in the 1500's, in part thanks to people like Martin Luther, who denounced the St. Nicholas Day holiday (which is December 5th).  So new gift-givers sprung up, including Father Christmas (who is actually based off the Roman god Saturn), and the German Christkindl, who was the Christ child, believed to bring gifts to children.The Dutch kept worshipping St. Nicholas, but they added Black Peter, a frightening creature believed to serve St. Nicholas; it was Black Peter who carried a trunk full of presents (for good children) and birch rods (for bad children).  As a historical side note, Black Peter was often depicted as a sixteenth-century Spanish official, because the Dutch were occupied by the Spanish but drove them out.  Dutch children called St. Nicholas "Sinter Claes" for short; this eventually evolved into "Santa Claus."

From there, these various gift givers merged and became the figure of Santa Claus (for example, "Christkindl" eventually became another name for Santa, "Kris Kringle").  His image slowly became the jolly old elf, in no small thanks to Clement Clarke Moore's poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" ("'Twas the night before Christmas...") and Thomas Nast's cartoons for Harper's Weekly.  Other characters entered the Santa Claus myth, including his helper elves, Mrs. Claus, the eight reindeer, and later Rudolph.

The Truth About Santa Claus was a really interesting read about Santa Claus's history.  It might be old, but it's still well-worth the read.