While the predicted Mayan Apocalypse on December 21, 2012 proved to be a bust, Santa Claus and Christmas have continued on as usual. In the Christmas spirit, we at PlagSpotter would like to give a brief look at Santa Claus around the world.
The figure of Santa Claus has both Pagan and Christian traditions that have interwoven themselves across many cultures and time. The original figure of the contemporary Santa with the long white beard can be traced to the Scandinavian god Odin who led the Wild Hunt’s ghostly procession across the sky during the Winter Solstice. Odin’s image was likely transformed into the figure of Santa during the Christianization of Germanic and Scandinavian countries. Another important origin of Santa is St. Nicholas of Myra, who gave all his worldly possessions to the poor. He became a bishop later in life, which accounts for the contemporary Santa wearing red. And in many Western European countries, like Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Germany, he is still seen dressed as a traditional Catholic bishop.
But in England, Santa is known as Father Christmas. This can be attributed to King Henry VIII, who replaced St. Nicholas Day traditions with Father Christmas. The American Santa Claus can also trace his origins to Father Christmas. Yet, the popularized version of the American Santa is attributable to Clement Clarke Moore’s poem “The Night Before Christmas.” This poem established the standard image of Santa as the endearing old man, in a red suit and hat, with a bag of gifts, and a laugh like a bowl full of jelly. The Coca Cola Company also standardized the modern image of Santa Claus with their Santa ad campaigns in the 1930’s.
Yet western culture is not alone with its traditions of an old bearded man delivering presents to children. Russia has Dyed Moroz (Grandfather Frost) who, with his granddaughter Snegurochka (snow girl), delivers presents to children. The Japanese have Hotei-osho, a man who looks like a fat Buddhist monk with a sack. He is considered a deity of good fortune and prosperity. In the same line, the Chinese have Dun Che Lao Ren who leaves good children presents in Muslin sacks. But no matter where you are in the world, Santa is in the popular culture and leaving good tidings of comfort and joy.