Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Kris Kringle, or simply Santa, is a mythical figure with roots in Western Christian culture. Depending on whether they have been “naughty or nice,” Santa Claus is said to bring children gifts on Christmas Eve that include toys and candy, coal, or nothing at all.
He purportedly does this with the help of flying reindeer that pull his sleigh through the air and Christmas elves who create the toys in his workshop, which is sometimes claimed to be at the North Pole.
Santa Claus as we know him today is based on folktales about Saint Nicholas, the English figure of Father Christmas and the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas.
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Santa Claus’s Appearance.
Santa Claus is typically portrayed as a large, cheerful, white-bearded man with spectacles who is dressed in a red coat with white fur collar and cuffs, red pants with white fur cuffs, a red hat with white fur, and black leather belt and boots. He also typically carries a bag filled with gifts for children. He often appears to laugh in ways that sound like “ho ho ho.”
The great impact of the 1823 poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” led to the widespread adoption of this image in the United States and Canada during the 19th century. Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist, and caricaturist, also contributed to the design of Santa Claus. Through song, radio, television, children’s books, family Christmas customs, movies, and advertising, this image has been upheld and promoted.
Predecessor Figures Of Santa Claus.
Saint Nicholas was a Greek Christian bishop of Myra (now Demre) in the Lycian area of the Roman Empire, which is now Turkey, from the fourth century. Nicholas was renowned for giving generously to the needy; in particular, he gave dowries to three poor daughters of a pious Christian so they wouldn’t have to work as prostitutes.
He was raised in a deeply devout home and gave his entire life to the Christian faith. He is typically represented as a bearded bishop wearing canonical robes in continental Europe (more specifically, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Germany).
A group of merchants from the Italian city of Bari removed the main bones of Nicholas’s skeleton from his sarcophagus in the Greek church in Myra in 1087, while the Greek Christian residents of the city were being subjugated by the recently arrived Muslim Seljuq dynasty and shortly after their Greek Orthodox church had been declared to be in schism by the Catholic church (1054 AD).
The sailors transported St. Nicholas’ remains to Bari over the protests of the Myrian monks, where they are today housed in the Basilica di San Nicola.
Only half of Nicholas’ skeleton was recovered by Bari sailors; the rest was left in the church’s sarcophagus. Later, during the First Crusade, Venetian sailors took them and brought them back to Venice, where a cathedral dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, was erected on the San Nicol al Lido. The damaged sarcophagus of St. Nicholas is still on display in the St. Nicholas Church in Myra.
Two significant scientific analyses of the artifacts in Bari and Venice, which established that the artifacts in the two Italian cities are from the same skeleton, provided confirmation of this tradition. Later, a variety of disparate organizations, including pawnbrokers, children, sailors, and archers, claimed Saint Nicholas as their patron saint. He is also Moscow’s and Amsterdam’s patron saint.
Children were given gifts in his honor during the Middle Ages, frequently the evening before his name day of December 6th. This day was earlier than the original Children’s Day, which was relocated due to the Reformation and its resistance to the adoration of saints on December 24 and 25 in many nations.
Martin Luther promoted the Christmas gift-giving tradition in place of the formerly highly common St. Nicholas tradition in order to direct children’s attention toward Christ rather than the devotion of saints. Martin Luther was the first to propose that presents should be brought by the Christkind. But people continued to like Nicholas because he brought them gifts.
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In England during Henry VIII’s reign in the 16th century, Father Christmas was portrayed as a big man dressed in crimson or green robes lined with fur. He personified the holiday spirit of good cheer, bringing peace, joy, revelry, and delicious food and wine. The Father Christmas festival was changed to December 25 to fall on Christmas Day because England no longer observed Saint Nicholas’ feast day on December 6th.
Father Christmas was the symbol of holiday cheer throughout the Victorian rebirth of the holiday. In Charles Dickens’s holiday tale A Christmas Carol (1843), John Leech depicted the “Ghost of Christmas Present” as a large genial man wearing a green coat lined with fur who guides Scrooge through the crowded streets of London on the actual Christmas morning, sprinkling the spirit of Christmas on the joyous populace.
Dutch, Belgian, and Swiss folklore.
The Sinterklaas, a Saint Nicolas-based persona, competes with Santa Claus in the Netherlands and Belgium. The Dutch and French names for Santa Claus are de Kerstman (“the Christmas man”) and Père Nol (“Father Christmas,” respectively).
Sinterklaas continues to be the most prominent December gift-giver for kids in the Netherlands; 36% of Dutch people only give presents on Sinterklaas evening or the actual day, December 6, while another 21% do so on Christmas, which falls on December 25. In the Dutch, 26% of people exchange gifts on both days.
On December 6th, Belgium offers gifts to children exclusively, while on Christmas Day, gifts are given to people of all ages. They are not elves because Saint Nicholas/Sinterklaas’ helpers go by the names “Pieten” (in Dutch) or “Père Fouettard” (in French).
In Switzerland, Père Fouettard travels with Père Noël in the French-speaking area, and Samichlaus travels with the evil Schmutzli in the Swiss German area. Schmutzli spanks the misbehaving kids with a twig broom he carries.
Germanic paganism, Wodan, and Christianization.
The Germanic peoples, including the English, celebrated Yule, a winter festival, before they became Christians (Old English geola or giuli). Numerous Yuletide customs were incorporated into modern Christmas as a result of Germanic Europe becoming more Christian.
Supernatural and paranormal happenings, such as the Wild Hunt, a spectral procession through the skies, were supposed to occur more frequently at this time. The Old Norse god Odin (Wodan), also known by the names Jólnir, which means “Yule figure,” and Langbarr, which means “long-beard,” is commonly identified as the mastermind of the Wild Hunt.
Many aspects of Wodan’s Yuletide function, such as his long white beard and gray horse for nightly journeys (similar to Odin’s steed Sleipnir) or his reindeer in North American tradition, have been speculated as having impacted notions of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus.
Margaret Baker, a folklorist, claims “the appearance of Santa Claus or Father Christmas, whose day is the 25th of December, owes much to Odin, the old blue-hooded, cloaked, white-bearded Giftbringer of the north, who rode the midwinter sky on his eight-footed steed Sleipnir, visiting his people with gifts. Odin, transformed into Father Christmas, then Santa Claus, prospered with St Nicholas and the Christchild, became a leading player on the Christmas stage.”
Santa Claus is known as Joulupukki (literally, “Christmas Goat”) in Finland. The flying reindeer might represent how Sámi shamans employ fly agaric.
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