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The myth of Santa Claus has delighted children and adults for centuries. While the story of the man Americans call "Santa Claus" has commonalities with how the story is told in other countries, there are some interesting difference as well. The story of Santa Claus is part myth and part truth, and ultimately each person has to decide for him or herself how much to believe.
The original Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas, who lived in what is now present-day Turkey during the fourth century A.D. Although records aren't completely clear, he was probably a bishop. He was persecuted by the Romans for his Christian faith (UMKC, 2004). He was revered for his generosity and kindness, and for miracles that helped the poor and troubled. Among others, the faithful believed that he had provided dowries for three young women so they would not have to enter lives of slavery or prostitution (UMKC, 2004). Interestingly, in Greek icons, or images of saints, St. Nicholas was shown as tall and thin, very different than we imagine him today.
Until the early 19th century, he was mostly known in Asia Minor, particularly Greece, where he was a popular saint who was celebrated on Dec. 6. However, he was known of in Western Europe, and was often depicted in religious plays during the Middle Ages (UMKC, 2004).
The Reformation changed things some. After Protestants split from the Catholic Church they stopped celebrating the Catholic saints, including St. Nicholas, except for Holland, where the tradition was continued as "Sinterklaas." The Dutch brought this Christmas tradition with them when they emigrated to New York, and the tradition was adopted by English-speaking settlers, who called him "Santa Claus." The story merged with a Nordic one of a man who rewarded good children and punished those who misbehaved (UMKC, 2004).
The story of Santa Claus had such wide appeal that it spread to many European countries. In England he is known as "Father Christmas," as Pere Noel in France, and in Germany, Weinachtsman (UMKC, 2004). Both the Netherlands and Russia have long traditions of a person similar to our "Santa Claus. In the Netherlands, people believe that Sinterklaas has an assistant named Zwarte Piet. In modern times, television has helped maintain the myth, reporting the news story of the arrival of Sinterklaas by ship every year. Sinterklaas is dressed like a bishop, which harkens back to the original St. Nicholas, and rides into town on a white horse. Most towns and villages hold a Sinterklaas parade (Maas, 2004). Kinterklaas' visit is a drawn-out one. Before Dec. 6, he goes about the country determining which children have been well-behaved and which have not. Meanwhile, the children put their shoes outside the front door with a list of what they would like to receive as presents. They also leave a snack for KinterKlaas and Zwarte Piet, and carrots or hay and water for the white horse (Maas, 2004).
When the big day comes, good children get chocolate candy or other small gifts left in their shoes, but naughty children get coal or a bag of salt. Sometimes the gifts are presented as puzzles: a small gift might be in a large box, or a present might reveal a clue about where to go to find the present. Often the gift includes a humorous, original poem. Sinterklaas may arrive himself with a sack full of presents. The variations can be many, but often include humor and playing harmless tricks on each other in the process of gift-giving (Maas, 2004).
In the Russian Orthodox Church, a religion closely connected to the Greek Orthodox Church, St. Nicholas plays an important role. In religious triptychs, or images of three holy figures, pictures of Jesus and his mother Mary are often accompanied by St. Nicholas. In Russian tradition, St. Nicholas was the patron saint of the weak and downtrodden and was believed to protect people from those stronger or richer than them (Author, DATE).
In Russia he was referred to as St. Nikola the Wonder-Worker. St. Nicholas is so revered in the Russian Orthodox Church that many Russians take a pilgrimage from Kirov to Velikoretsky, a three-day walk during which they follow an image of St. Nicholas (Author, DATE). During Communist…[continue]
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