Yes Virginia, There is a Sinterklaas.Nov 16, 2020 08:29AM ● By Donia Moore
In Belgium and the Netherlands, Sinterklaas delivers presents to good children.
by Donia Moore
Christmas is my favorite holiday,
bar none. It’s also my birthday ...
Many of my dearest friends and family members offer me their misguided sympathy, thinking wrongly that I feel “gypped” of either a “real” birthday or of Christmas. I, in turn, feel sorry for them that at this glorious time of year, they only have one day to celebrate.
Of course, Santa was my hero. How did he always know exactly what I craved for Christmas and my birthday? I decided to learn all I could about him. No Internet when I was a child, but we had our trusty World Book Encyclopedia and the library. I set to work, not to expose Santa, but to understand this most kind and genial gent.
In The U.S., our jolly old elf was created by artist Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola advertisements, which debuted in The Saturday Evening Post in 1931. Sundblom’s images spawned urban legends that Santa Claus was invented by the Coca-Cola Company, or that Santa wears red and white because they’re the colors used to promote the Coca-Cola brand.
In Washington Irving’s satirical story History of New York(1809), the Dutch Sinterklaas was Americanized into Santa Claus. It first met the American press in 1773. Current ideas of what Santa Claus looks like came after the publication of the poem A Visit From St. Nicholas in the Troy, New York Sentinel on December 23, 1823. Initially published anonymously, the famous poem – which is better known today as ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas– was later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. Modern details originally established in this poem included riding in a sleigh that lands on rooftops, having eight reindeer, and carrying a bag full of toys.
Thomas Nast, a German-born cartoonist of the 19th century, created the Republic Party’s iconic elephant. But in 1863 he created his most enduring work, and his famous illustration of Merry Old Santa Claus appeared in Harper’s Weekly.
Truly an International Phenomenon
The real Saint Nicholas was a Greek Christian bishop born sometime around 280 A.D. (approximately 1738 years ago) near Myra in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia (now located in Turkey). Famous for his generous and anonymous gifts to the poor he once helped three impoverished daughters of a local Christian with dowries (dropping a sack of gold through their window each night) so that they wouldn’t have to become prostitutes.
In 1087, the Italians mounted an expedition to locate the tomb of the Christian Saint and procure his remains in order to attract tourism to the area. The reliquary of St Nicholas was taken to Bari, where it is to this day.
Vikings Eric the Red and his son Leif came to the New World in 1126. They built a cathedral dedicated to Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, merchants, and students. Odin, their major god, kept two ravens that would listen at people’s chimneys to find out who was good or bad. During the Germanic holiday of Yule, he led a great hunting party through the sky, riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir that could leap great distances (sound like Santa Claus’ reindeer?).
Children placed their boots near the chimney, filling them with carrots, straw, or sugar for Sleipnir to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir’s food with gifts or candy. Eventually, the use of Christmas stockings began to replace boots.
In Belgium and the Netherlands, Sinterklaas delivers presents to good children. Often called De Goede Sint (The Good Saint) and De Goedheiligman (The Good Holy Man), he is the iconic blend of pagan and Christian traditions. Portrayed as elderly with luxurious long white hair and beard and dressed in vestments of red and white, he rides a white horse. His helpers keep track of naughty and nice in his big red book.
In 1616, jolly old England gave us Father Christmas, first appearing in Christmas his Masque, a play written by Ben Jonson. Old Christmas was portrayed as a well-nourished, bearded man dressed in fur-lined robes.
Originally a controversial political symbol, it wasn’t until Victorian times that Santa began being associated with giving gifts to children.
By the early 1800s, historic St. Nicholas and the Dutch Sinterklaas had merged with the British Father Christmas creating Santa Claus. The Brits still leave out beer or sherry for him rather than milk and cookies on Christmas Eve.
The German Santa Claus was nearly eliminated by Martin Luther, who played a major role in the Protestant Reformation. Luther wanted to rid Christmas of all its Catholic customs. He introduced das Christkindl, an angelic Christ Child who brought gifts to good girls and boys, morphing into Der Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas), Kris Kringle and Christkindl, it is still popular in the Catholic region of Bavaria.
Stylish Pére Noël has a fur-lined hood built into his cozy cloak. Besides making the French Santa more fashionable, it’s also warmer when flying through the polar night skies. French children write letters to Père Noël in class at school, asking him for certain presents. In 1962, a law was passed in France decreeing that all letters written to Santa would be responded to with a postcard so that when a class writes letters, each pupil gets a response.
I can’t help but wonder who gets to drink that sherry …