Who is he, where does he come from and when did he become a capitalist?

He’s had aliases and associates, has been canceled and relaunched more times than a middle-aged comedian, and has found himself caught up in cases of cannibalism, body abduction, and necromancy since he began. first came to prominence in Myra, in what was then Greece and is now Turkey, 1750 years ago. But how did Santa Claus get from all of this to the good old fool we know and love today?

At the time, his name was Nicolas; after the death of his parents from the plague, he gave all his fortune, thus giving birth to his reputation as a fabulous donor. One of those generous acts helped save a trio of virgin sisters from a life of prostitution, when he left gold in their stockings, which had been hung out to dry overnight. This is how he became the patron saint of sex workers, single women and, later, prisoners, sailors, brewers, archers and wolves.

He also ended up becoming the patron saint of children – and the way it happened is more like a scene from Silence of the Lambs than to Miracle on 34th Street. On his way to a local tavern, he realized that the marinated meat offered to him as a salty snack was the remains of three boys whose father had sent them to attend a local religious boarding school but who had been butchered. by the innkeeper and his wife during a terrible famine. Saint Nicholas not only resurrected the children, but also made the innkeeper repent, thus winning the first of many dubious acolytes, Father Fouettard, who distributes lumps of coal and whips naughty children.

Santa Claus first became known as Saint Nicholas of Myra, in what was then Greece and now Turkey, 1,750 years ago. Photography: Heritage Art via Getty

Santa Claus abandoned his bodily form on December 6, 343, after which his popularity increased and he became perhaps Europe’s favorite saint. He began to co-opt the power of pre-Christian gods, such as the Norse god Odin, whose long white beard inspired his and whose eight-legged horse Sleipnir would give St Nick the idea of ​​using reindeer. to deliver the gifts made by his elves, first on his birthday, but later on Christmas Eve.

In the 11th century, what our ancestors had closest to Disneyland was the resting place of religious icons. So when Myra fell to the Turks, a Renaissance version of the space race was started by several Italian cities, all of which wanted to get their hands on the remains of St Nick – and, by proxy, the tourist duplicates. . The port city of Bari won, and to this day the city celebrates the arrival of its bones every May. But parts of his skeleton have been scattered across the world. Some bones are even believed to be held in Kilkenny.

The Wild Hunt of Odin, 1872. Found in the collection of Nasjonalmuseet for Kunst, Arkitektur og Design, Oslo.  Arbo artist, Peter Nicolai (1831-1892).  Photograph: Fine Art Images / Heritage Images via Getty Images

Santa’s beard was inspired by that of the Norse god Odin, whose eight-legged horse Sleipnir gave St Nick the idea of ​​using reindeer to give gifts. Photography: Fine Arts / Heritage via Getty

During a stay in Britain in the 15th century, St Nick went through his reveler phase, adapting new names like Captain Christmas and Sir Christmas. He was less interested in gifts during this time and more interested in bringing joy to the world by encouraging people to eat, drink, and rejoice to mark the birth of Christ. This brought him into contact with the Puritans, and when European Protestants embarked on a Reformation, they tried to follow suit, so loath to allow their flock to maintain their Catholic idolatry. Baby Jesus was forced to work for him, but found it difficult to give gifts due to his size. So he was given demonic acolytes who punished children who did not say their prayers.

This did not last and St Nick was then allowed to come back behind the sled. But the wicked line of acolytes remained. Krampus, Schmutzli and Zwarte Piet, who dress in blackface and threaten to abduct children and whip them with sticks, are just a few of the disreputable people who are still part of Santa’s international troop.

A woman has her face painted to become Zwarte Piet (Black Pete).  Photograph: Robin Van Lonkhuijsen / AFP via Getty Images

Santa’s sidekick Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) threatens to kidnap children and whip them with sticks. Photograph: Robin Van Lonkhuijsen / AFP via Getty

Most Saint’s Day would eventually follow the path of the MiniDisc player, but nothing could alter the power that St Nick had over the human imagination, especially in the Netherlands, where he was known as Sinterklaas. The Dutch emigrants took with them the feast day when they emigrated, in the 17th century, to New York, where our American brethren renamed him Santa Claus. Writers like Washington Irving strip him of his religious identity and cure him of his almost sadomasochistic taste for discipline, while Clement Clarke Moore discovers the names of eight of his reindeer (Rudolph only joined the crew during the great fog. 1939) writes the first descriptions of Santa Claus as the world still sees him, in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.

Political cartoonist Thomas Nast began to describe Santy’s visits to troops during the Civil War and quickly became Santa’s unofficial portrait painter. Acting as a Yuletide Hello magazine, Nast first revealed images of Santa walking down the fireplace, browsing naughty lists or watching his elves at work in his studio. Most famously, he revealed that Santa Claus made his home in the North Pole, just as the first Arctic explorations captured the world’s imaginations.

Irish children may have helped Santa’s red cheeks by leaving out a pint of black stuff to warm him in his sleigh

In 1849, Santa Claus settled in with Mrs Claus, although we didn’t discover her name until 1889, when Katharine Lee Bates, author of America the Beautiful, revealed that it was Goody ( as in goodwife), in his poem Goody Santa Claus on a sleigh ride.

It was around this time that Santa Claus took a more capitalist orientation. He started hanging out in department stores, charging for the honor of meeting him – and later having his picture taken with – him. He even teamed up with Coca-Cola, which pasted Moore’s image of him – a stout man, in a red suit, with red cheeks, unlike the rake-thin bishop or rake’s face. old elf – all over the world.

A Haddon Sundblom advertising poster shows a young boy surprising Santa Claus.  Photograph: Library of Congress / Corbis / VCG via Getty Images

A portly Santa Claus with red cheeks has become associated with Coca-Cola. Photograph: Library of Congress / Corbis / VCG via Getty

Her weight gain is attributed to the Depression-era penchant for skipping cookies and milk, a move from the Scandinavian tradition of leaving carrots and hay in your shoes for Sleipnerm. The Irish children may have helped Santa’s red cheeks by leaving out a pint of the black stuff to warm him in his sleigh.

Some people oppose the American metamorphosis of Santa Claus – in 1951, members of the clergy burned his image in France. Is it any wonder that it has taken so many shapes and sizes over the years and gone to great lengths not to be seen?

But while modern technology allows us to track his travels on GPS, Santa Claus, St Nick or whatever name you want to call him continues to have one essential purpose: to inspire our imaginations and foster a sense of goodwill and hope at a time of year when it would otherwise be difficult to muster either.

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