St. Nicholas, SinterKlass, or “Santa” – Festival Rituals

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Home / St. Nicholas, SinterKlass, or “Santa” – Festival Rituals

The thought of “Santa Claus” brings annual joy to thousands of children world-wide. Image by Melodi2.

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, or SinterKlass, is essentially a benevolent figure. This legend depicts a middle-aged to elderly man who delivers gifts across the world to good children everywhere, flying on some kind of airborne device, often pulled by animals, specifically reindeer.

Santa Claus is also reputedly assisted by supernatural, benevolent beings of small stature known as Elves. Believers state that he lives in the furthest reaches of the Northern Hemisphere, and specifically in the North Pole.  Santa (as I will refer to him for short) is usually believed to dress in red and white fur-trimmed clothes, sport a big white beard and moustache, and wear a white fur-trimmed hat, with a white bobble.

Santa Claus’ main function is to bring presents, and to place them under the “Christmas Tree” of the recipients. In this respect, Santa fulfils a vital role, one that the Royal Mail here in the UK often struggles to achieve.

There have been calls for Santa to run the World’s Postal Service, but the Monopoly Commission is currently examining the proposal; having one man and 500 Elves run the global postal network might well be in breach of a number of regulations relating to Trade – as well as Health and Safety.

The Origins of “Santa”

There are a number of countries that claim to be the birthplace of Santa, ranging from Germany,  Scandinavia, and Turkey.  They all have a right to the claim, as there are various figures who later morphed into a universal Santa personality.

Odin offered a blueprint for this gift-dropping, sky-hopping mature mythological figure in his Ghostly Wild Hunt Sky procession, which saw different Gods, Fairies, and supernatural beings chase prey across the winter night sky of the Northern Hemisphere.

Santa Claus himself, or St Nicholas, was a bishop from Lycia, Turkey. This bishop, later buried in Italy, was reported as being very kind and generous, always donating to the poor. The modern custom of Santa bringing gifts to all children originates from St Nicholas.

20-21st Century Santa Effigies and Emulations

Santa impersonators often lull children into a false sense of coming gifted prosperity. Image by kakisky.

Individuals often dress up as Santa during the Christmas period, often to entertain children. Children will sit on the lap of these Santa substitutes and confide their wishes regarding gifts.  Unfortunately, confided wishes have been known to have gone uncommunicated, with tragic consequences for the child who then lost all confidence  in Santa. Of all the Northern European, Western traditions, this seems one of the most cruel, as it lulls small children into a false sense of security.  Some parents have called for Santa impersonators to be banned on these grounds

Santa: Big Red Boss

It is true that the striking feature about Santa, as we now know him, is that his purpose and essence always imply the desire to help others and to give without receiving.  There is no requirement to give any kind of offering to Santa, not even allegiance or belief, in order to qualify for presents from him.

The only real qualifying criteria for receiving a gift from Santa is to be ‘good’, or to have done at least some good deeds.  This is assessed by Santa himself, apparently.

In anthropological analysis, Santa is a good example of a personal and a cultural symbol – generally, we like to believe that we will be rewarded for ethical behaviour that follows Society’s rules.  This behaviour, however is not always recognized. So we learn to recognize our just desserts for ourselves and, quite literally, pat ourselves on the back.

Santa is a good role model for children, as he teaches self- monitoring in the observation of social rules and expectations. All children just know whether they have been good… and they always have.  Thankfully, there are no historical records in written or oral history of Santa being vengeful or wrathful – the worst a ‘bad’ child can expect is a lump of coal instead of a gift.

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