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Santa Claus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Santa" redirects here. For for other uses, see Santa (disambiguation).
Santa Claus.
Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or simply Santa, is a legendary gift-giving icon who distributes presents to sleeping children and adults who have been "good" all year; traditionally during the night of December 24, Christmas Eve. The popular American form Santa Claus originated as a mispronunciation of Dutch Sinterklaas, which is a contracted form of Sint Nicolaas (Saint Nicholas).

Father Christmas is a well-loved figure in many countries and predates the Santa Claus character. Father Christmas is similar in many ways, though the two have quite different origins. Using 'Santa' in places that predominantly call him Father Christmas may be viewed as an Americanism, although they are generally nowadays regarded as the same character.


Sinterklaas in the Netherlands
Sinterklaas in the Netherlands

Santa Claus is a variation of a Dutch folk tale based on the historical figure Saint Nicholas, a bishop from Myra in Asia Minor (the greater part of modern-day Turkey), who used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. His charity became legend when a man lost his fortune and found himself incapable of supporting his three daughters, who would not be able to find husbands as they lacked dowries. This man was going to give them over to a life of prostitution; however, St Nicholas provided them with gold, enabling them to retain their virginal virtues and marry.

This inspired figure of Sinterklaas, the subject of a major celebration in the Netherlands and Belgium, Germany (where his believed date of birth, December 6, is celebrated the evening before on December 5), which in turn inspired both the myth and the name of Santa Claus. "Santa Claus" is actually a mispronunciation of the Dutch word "Sinterklaas" by the English settlers of New Amsterdam (later renamed New York). Whilst in those countries Saint Nicholas is celebrated as a distinct character with a religious touch separate from Christmas, Santa Claus is also making inroads as a symbol during the Christmas season.[citation needed]

Santa Claus is an example of folklore mythology which adults know is fiction, but which is sometimes presented to children as fact. Other prominent examples are the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. He now forms an important part of the Christmas tradition throughout the Western World and Japan and other parts of East Asia.

A Santa Claus doll.
A Santa Claus doll.

Santa Claus is traditionally represented in a red cloak with white fur trimmings, a reference to St Nicholas, who reputably performed his charitable acts dressed in his red bishop's robes.

In many Eastern Orthodox traditions, Santa Claus visits children on New Year's Day and is identified with Saint Basil the Great, Archbishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Asia Minor (contemporary Turkey), whose memory is celebrated on that day. According to the Greek tradition, he is supposed to visit children and give presents every January 1. This festival is also marked by the baking of Saint Basil's bread (Gr. Βασιλόπιτα - Vasilˇpita), a sweetbread with a coin hidden inside.

Depictions of Santa Claus also have a close relationship with the Russian character of Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost"). He delivers presents to children and has a red coat, fur boots and long white beard. Much of the iconography of Santa Claus could be seen to derive from Russian traditions of Ded Moroz, particularly transmitted into western European culture through his German folklore equivalent, Vńterchen Frost. Parents say Santa gets around the world in 1 night by magic.

Department Store Santa
Department Store Santa

Conventionally, Santa Claus is portrayed as a kindly, round-bellied, merry, bespectacled white man in a red coat trimmed with white fur (perhaps remotely derived from the episcopal vestments of the original Bishop Nicholas), with a long white beard and green or white gloves. On Christmas Eve, he rides in his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer from house to house to give presents to children. To enter the house, Santa Claus comes down the chimney and exits through the fireplace. During the rest of the year he lives together with his wife Mrs. Claus and his elves manufacturing toys. Some modern depictions of Santa (often in advertising and popular entertainment) will show the elves and Santa's workshop as more of a processing and distribution facility, ordering and receiving the toys from various toy manufacturers from across the world. His home is usually given as either the North Pole, in northern Canada, Korvatunturi in Finnish Lapland, Dr°bak in Norway, Dalecarlia in Sweden, or Greenland, depending on the tradition and country. Sometimes Santa's home is in Caesarea when he is identified as Saint Basil. L. Frank Baum placed his home in The Laughing Valley of Hohaho. In the original Dutch tradition, Sinterklaas lives in Spain and is accompanied by a great number of black servants, called 'Zwarte Pieten', which means Black Petes.

Historical origins

Main article: Origins of Santa Claus

See also: Christmas gift-bringers around the world and Christmas worldwide

Santa Claus in popular culture

Santa parading with a Santa Christmas ornament
Santa parading with a Santa Christmas ornament

Santa Claus rituals

Several rituals have developed around the Santa Claus figure that are normally performed by children hoping to receive gifts from him. See main article: Santa Claus rituals.

Ho, ho, ho

Ho ho ho is the way that many languages write out how Santa Claus laughs. "Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas!"

The laughter of Santa Claus has long been an important attribute by which the character is identified, but it also does not appear in many non-English-speaking countries. The traditional Christmas poem A Visit from St. Nicholas relates that Santa has:

. . . a little round belly
That shook when he laugh'd, like a bowl full of jelly

Ho ho ho represents an attempt to write the deep belly-laugh of Santa Claus, as opposed to the conventional, higher-pitched ha ha or he he that represents the laughter of thinner characters, or the snickering, cynical bwa/mwa ha ha! associated with the villains of melodrama.

Jacob Grimm asserts that "Ho ho ho" was the hunting cry of Odin during The Furious Host. Odin being attributal to Santa Claus.

"H0H 0H0" is a postal code used by Canada Post for routing letters sent in Canada to Santa Claus at the North Pole. The alphanumeric sequence falls within a grouping associated with the Montreal, Quebec area.

Santa Claus's reindeers' names

Main article: Santa Claus' reindeer
A classic American image of Santa Claus.
A classic American image of Santa Claus.

Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen are the most commonly cited names of Santa's nine reindeer. In the poem "The Night Before Christmas" (attributed to Clement C. Moore), from which the names of the reindeer come, the reindeer known today as Donner and Blitzen were originally Dunder and Blixem (the Dutch words "Donder" and "Bliksem" stand for "thunder" and "lightning", as rendered in English orthography). Dunder was later reprinted as Donder, which developed into Donner (the German for "thunder"); while Blixem was reprinted as Blitzen (Blitz is German for "lightning").[1]. All of these reindeer names are recited in the first verse of the popular song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, which in turn has helped make Rudolph by far the best known and most popular with children.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was born for the American department store chain Montgomery Ward in 1939, and has since entered the public consciousness as Santa's ninth and lead reindeer.

All of the above reindeer have been featured in many films, although in the film The Polar Express only eight of the reindeer can be seen pulling Santa's sleigh.

Also, in the movie The Santa Clause 2 Chet is a reindeer in training. Country singer Joe Diffie sang of "Leroy the Redneck Reindeer" in his 1995 song of the same title.

Santa Claus on film

Main article: Santa Claus on film


According to the NORAD Santa Tracking website[1], Santa is 'tracked' every Christmas Eve with the same equipment that tracks the presence of aircraft entering North American airspace. In addition, the Canadian Armed Forces regularly officially announce on Christmas Eve that Santa is "escorted into Canadian airspace by jet fighters", apparently to keep with the spirit of the night.


Santa Rampage in Austin, Texas
Santa Rampage in Austin, Texas
Main article: SantaCon

SantaCon is a mass gathering of people dressed in cheap Santa Claus costumes, performing publicly on streets and in bars. The focus is on spontaneity, creativity, and the improvisational nature of human interaction while having a good time. Variously known as Santarchy, Santa Rampage and the Red Menace, SantaCon events are noted for bawdy and harmless behavior, including the singing of naughty Christmas carols, and the giving of gifts. Some participants see SantaCon as a postmodern revival of Saturnalia, while others see the event as a precursor of the flash mob.

Santa's Mail

Many children write letters to Santa, usually to tell him what gifts they wish to recieve. Many of these letters get sent to the small town of North Pole, Alaska near Fairbanks. In 2005, 120,000 letters arrived from 26 countries, not counting the thousands with no return address. Those that do have return addresses usually get a reply and a North Pole postmark in a holiday effort that has delighted children all over the world for decades. Some people have also claimed that Santa lives in northern Finland, closer to the GMT time zone, so Santa would be able to catch up to the time zones to deliver presents at the correct time.

Letters trickle in year-round in the community of 1,600, where light poles are curved and striped like candy canes and streets have names such as Santa Claus Lane and Kris Kringle Drive. Around Thanksgiving, they start pouring in by the thousands each day as Christmas approaches. Even stampless letters get through, a rare exception for the U.S. Postal Service.

When parents and other adults write their own Santa replies, put them in a stamped, self-addressed envelope and tuck them into a larger envelope addressed to the Fairbanks post office, these are sent to the children. In other cases, the volunteers, called "Santa's Elves," reply to any letter with a return address. Either way, replies get a North Pole postal cancellation mark, complete with a half-moon drawing of Santa's face. The Fairbanks post office also stamps the postmark on thousands of Christmas cards and packages diverted through Alaska from outside the state each year.

Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks also runs a Santa letter project. Santa's Mailbag was started in 1954 by base weather forecasters. In 2005, more than 4,000 letters were received and followed up with replies from base volunteers. Many of the letters came from children of military families stationed in the lower 48 states and abroad, but civilian children also are welcome to write.

The post office in Santa Claus, Indiana (which is the home of Holiday World, formerly known as Santa Claus Land) will also postmark a letter with their Christmas-themed cancellation stamp around this time of year.

People have written websites on which children can send Santa Claus e-mail.

Little Jesus

In the Czech Republic, Santa Claus does not give gifts. Instead, Je×ÝÜek (little Jesus) handles the job. Je×ÝÜek is a representation of the newborn Jesus Christ and gives gifts after Christmas Eve dinner.

Christian opposition to Santa Claus

Main article: Christmas controversies
Excerpt from Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.
Excerpt from Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.

Though Santa Claus has Christian origins, he has become a secular representation of Christmas. As such, a number of Christian churches dislike the secular focus on Santa Claus and the materialist focus that present-receiving gives to the holiday.

Such a condemnation of Santa Claus is not a 20th-century phenomenon, but originated among some Protestant groups of the 16th century and was prevalent among the Puritans of 17th-century England and America who banned the holiday as either pagan or Roman Catholic. Following the English Civil War, under Oliver Cromwell's government Christmas was banned. Following the Restoration of the monarchy and with Puritans out of power in England,[2] the ban on Christmas was satirized in works such as Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Old Father Christmas; Together with his Clearing by the Jury (1686) [Nissenbaum, chap. 1].

Rev. Paul Nedergaard, a clergyman in Copenhagen, Denmark attracted controversy in 1958 when he declared Santa to be a "pagan goblin" after Santa's image was used on fundraising materials for a Danish welfare organization [Clar, 337]. One prominent religious group that refuses to celebrate Santa Claus, or Christmas itself, for similar reasons is the Jehovah's Witnesses. A number of denominations of Christians have varying concerns about Santa Claus.

Some Christians would prefer that the focus of the Christmas season be placed on the birth of Jesus.[3] In addition, some parents are uncomfortable about lying to their children about the existence of Santa. A worry that some of these have is that their children, eventually realizing that Santa is a deception, might draw the same conclusion about the existence of God. Many who share these concerns but still wish to participate in the festive gift-giving atmosphere of "Santa season" will shop for toys to donate to poor children on St. Nicholas's feast day, December 6. This is an opportunity to instill the Christian value of secret charity, which Nicholas was known for. Although feast days are usually not acknowledged in Protestant denominations, this tradition has found acceptance there as well.

While these viewpoints do not represent the majority of Christians, their comments have drawn the attention of critics such as the fictional Landover Baptist Church, whose website satirizes and parodies this viewpoint. The website specifies that Satan is disguising himself as Santa (notice the same letters used in an anagram) to deceive people into a materialistic celebration. But some people do not believe that because "why would the devil want kids to be nice all year if he is evil?".

See also

Related Topics

  • Christmas
  • Christmas Eve
  • Santa Claus parade
  • Secularization of Christmas
  • Origins of Santa Claus
  • Secret Santa - a form of gift giving
  • SantaCon - mass gatherings of people dressed in inexpensive Santa suits
  • Truth of Santa

Variations of Christmas around the world

  • American Christmas traditions
  • German Christmas traditions
  • Korvatunturi

Related Figues

  • Companions of Saint Nicholas
  • Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet - Dutch characters used for Christmas.
  • Easter bunny - Character created for the Easter holiday.
  • Hanukkah Harry
  • Jˇlasveinar
  • Saint Nicholas of Myra and Saint Basil
  • Jack Frost and Old Man Winter - Mythical characters.
  • Zanta - a Canadian street performer
  • Tomte - Scandinavian mythical character
  • Yule Goat - Scandinavian Christmas symbol


  1. ^

External links

  • "Official" Santa Claus site: Santa Claus
  • Write to Santa Claus at Canada Post Santa Letter Writing Program
  • Have Santa Claus write to your child with a Free Santa Letter
  • The real Santa, St. Nicholas, with information, art, & fun activities: Saint Nicholas
  • Christmas and Santa Claus by Santa Club
  • The Original 1860s Thomas Nast Santa Claus Illustrations
  • Jenny Nystr÷m, the artist whose Christmas cards inspired Haddon Sundblom when he designed Coca-Cola's Santa.
  • Norman Rockwell's Santa and Expense Book
  •, one of the Internet's oldest Santa-related website, founded in 1991 by former Library of Congress archivist Jeff Guide
  • Fortean Times magazine pieces together the Santa myth in Lappland
  • NORAD Tracks Santa
  • The Unofficial Santa Claus: The Movie Website
  • This American Life story about the history and stories of Santa Claus
  • North Pole Flooded With Letters - Depot Hill Media


  • "Bad Disney". Washington Times. November 21, 2003.
  • "Santa's Elves in Alaskan Town Reply to Letters". AOL News. Dec. 9, 2006.
  • Barnard, Eunice Fuller. "Santa Claus Claimed as a Real New Yorker." New York Times. December, 19, 1926.
  • Baum, L. Frank. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. 1902; reprint, New York: Penguin, 1986. ISBN 0-451-52064-5
  • Belk, Russel W. "A Child's Christmas in America: Santa Claus as Deity, Consumption as Religion." Journal of American Culture, 10, no. 1 (Spring 1987), pp. 87-100.
  • "Christmas Customs; Are They Christian?". The Watchtower (New York). December 15, 2000.
  • Clar, Mimi. "Attack on Santa Claus." Western Folklore, 18, no. 4 (October 1959), p. 337.
  • Clark, Cindy Dell. Flights of Fancy, Leaps of Faith: Children's Myths in Contemporary America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. ISBN 0-226-10778-7
  • "The Claus That Refreshes" at
  • "Letter from Santa Clause" at
  • "The Devil Is In Your Chimney!" at
  • Dini, Paul. Jingle Belle various issues [4]
  • Flynn, Tom. The Trouble with Christmas. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1993. ISBN 0-87975-848-1
  • Horowitz, Joseph. Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. ISBN 0-393-05717-8
  • "Is There a Santa Claus?" New York Sun. September 21, 1897.
  • King, Josiah. The Examination and Tryal of Old Father Christmas; Together with his Clearing by the Jury . . . London: Charles Brome, 1686. Full text available here
  • Lalumia, Christine. "The restrained restoration of Christmas". In the Ten Ages of Christmas from the BBC website.
  • Moore, Clement Clarke. "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Troy (N.Y.) Sentinel. December 23, 1823.
  • Nissenbaum, Stephen. The Battle for Christmas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. ISBN 0-649-41223-9
  • Otnes, Cele, Kyungseung Kim, and Young Chan Kim. "Yes, Virginia, There is a Gender Difference: Analyzing Children's Requests to Santa Claus." Journal of Popular Culture, 28, no. 1 (Summer 1994), pp. 17-29.
  • Ott, Jonathan. Pharmacotheon: Entheogenic Drugs, Their Plant Sources and History. Kennewick, Wash.: Natural Products Company, 1993. ISBN 0-9614234-9-8
  • Plath, David W. "The Japanese Popular Christmas: Coping with Modernity." American Journal of Folklore, 76, no. 302 (October-December 1963), pp. 309-317.
  • Potter, Alicia. "Celluloid Santas" at
  • Quinn, Seabury. Roads. 1948; facsimile reprint, Mohegan Lake, N.Y.: Red Jacket Press, 2005. ISBN 0-9748895-8-X
  • Romain Sardou's One Second before Christmas, 2005. ISBN 2-84563-262-2 (French original version)
  • "St. Nicholas of Myra" in the Catholic Encyclopedia at
  • Sedaris, David. The Santaland Diaries and Seasons Greetings: Two Plays. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1998. ISBN 0-8222-1631-0
  • Shenkman, Richard. Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History. New York: HarperCollins, 1988. ISBN 0-06-097261-0
  • Siefker, Phyllis. Santa Claus, Last of the Wild Men: The Origins and Evolution of Saint Nicholas, Spanning 50,000 Years. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1996. ISBN 0-7864-0246-6
  • Twitchell, James B. Twenty Ads that Shook the World. New York: Crown Publishers, 2000. ISBN 0-609-60563-1
  • "Why Track Him?" at

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