Friday, December 24, 2010

History of Christmas Part 2

Many of Santa's attributes are thanks to the poem, "Twas the Night Before Christmas." From this poem, we learn that Santa rides in a sleigh that lands on people's roofs with a bulging sack of toys to deliver to children. The poem also introduced the notion of Santa going down the chimney to get into the house. Santa is described as being a large man, with a belly like a bowl full of jelly. This poem also introduced the eight tiny reindeer that Santa used to deliver his toys.
Thomas Nast, a cartoonist in the late 1800's immortalized the image of Santa Claus that we know today. He published his own rendition of Santa Claus that looks like what we know today. From his cartoons the legend of Santa Claus living in the North Pole also came. By the 1870's all of this was widely known by the American public. Further lore on Santa Claus came from the story "The Life and Times of Santa Claus" by L. Frank Baum in 1902. Baum is best known for penning "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." This gives another back story of Santa Claus and where his immortality comes from. The story was made into a stop motion animation in 1985, and is one of the weirdest Santa Claus stories ever. Check out the cartoon if you can find it. I have it on VHS and have watched it since I was a little kid out of pure nostalgia.

Santa Claus' image has changed slightly since then, only changing a little for advertising reasons for the Coca Cola company. Though Coke seems to have an embargo on Santa advertising, the jolly old elf has been a part of almost every other company in existence. Santa has been used also for charity. You will see a Santa perched outside of a department store ringing a bell for Salvation Army every season. Santa's wife was created around the in the early 1800's, being made more popular with more publications.

Several traditions have found their way into our lives because of Santa. Kids for ages have been writing letters to Santa, hoping that Santa will give them their wish for plentiful gifts. Stepping into the computer age, we even have children e-mailing Santa Claus. Also popular on the Internet and on your local news channel is Santa Tracker. This allows kids to know where Santa is at the time. Another tradition, this one for Christmas eve, is to leave something out for Santa. It varies from country to country what a family will leave for Santa. In the U.S., we usually leave him some cookies and a glass of milk. In some cases, carrots would be left out for Santa's reindeer. In Britain and Australia, kids will leave out mince pies and sherry instead. In Sweden they leave out rice porridge, and in Ireland they leave out Christmas Pudding and a Guinness. I'm thinking that Santa likes Ireland the best. He had to stop visiting there so early in the night though, as some countries would be accidentally passed over. For many kids now, there is less fear of a being such as Krampus or any other malevolent person punishing you for your bad deeds during the year, since most kids are just threatened with coal in their stockings.

Speaking of stockings, the story of their beginning is an interesting one: Very long ago, there lived a poor man and his three very beautiful daughters. He had no money to get his daughters married, and he was worried what would happen to them after his death. Saint Nicholas was passing through when he heard the villagers talking about the girls. St. Nicholas wanted to help, but knew that the old man wouldn't accept charity. He decided to help in secret. He waited until it was night and crept through the chimney. He had three bags of gold coins with him, one for each girl. As he was looking for a place to keep those three bags, he noticed stockings of the three girls that were hung over the mantelpiece for drying. He put one bag in each stocking and off he went. When the girls and their father woke up the next morning, they found the bags of gold coins and were of course, overjoyed. The girls were able to get married and live happily ever after. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas.

We in America associate Christmas with so many things now, that it's hard to keep it straight what the whole point is. Is it about Santa and gifts? Is it about spending quality time with family? Or is it about celebrating Jesus' birth? If you are like many Americans, it is all three. Many people, even if they aren't religious, will go to a Christmas Eve service, then spend time with their loved ones. The family wakes up, then opens presents together and had a great feast. Many argue that Jesus' birth has been taken over by Santa and commercialism. It has in a way, but that doesn't mean that people should stop celebrating for the right reasons. Christmas is the epitome of holidays in my opinion. You have the best of everything; family, gift-giving, and a religious celebration. So, from me to all of my readers, hope you all have a very Merry Christmas!


Demosthenes' Christmas favorites:

-Mickey's Christmas Carol
-The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
-Muppet's Christmas Carol
-A Christmas Story
-Christmas Vacation
-Home Alone

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