[Our Fake History] Episode #101- Who is the Real Santa Claus?

Episode #101- Who is the Real Santa Claus?

18/12/2019 by Sebastian Major

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=90281965
Episode: http://podtrac.com/pts/redirect.mp3/traffic.libsyn.com/ourfakehistory/Episode_101-_Who_is_the_Real_Santa_Claus.mp3?dest-id=367678

The Santa Claus legend may be one of the most sturdy pieces of mythology in modern times. While other magical creatures have faded from our common lore, the legend of Santa Claus has only grown. However, the evolution of this beloved holiday character has been downright strange. How did a lank and serious Bishop from Anatolia become the jolly bringer gifts we know today? Tune in and find out how pickled kids, Dwight Shrute, and horned gods all play a role in the story. Get merch here: https://www.teepublic.com/stores/our-fake-history?ref_id=9701

Listen date: 2020-01-14

  • In a way, Santa Claus isn’t so much fake history any more because it’s a myth that has long shed any historical moorings. But Sebastian Major made the interesting point that Santa Claus is perhaps the last remaining magical entity the English speaking world not only keeps going, but actively promotes. The episode is more of an evolution of the idea of Santa Claus.
  • Of course there’s a Discworld connection: Hogfather.
  • The episode kicks off with three myths about St Nicholas of Myra that connect to the Santa Claus persona. First, that he miraculously resurrected three boys murdered by an evil butcher and pickled in a salting tub; making him the patron saint of children. Second, that there were three poor daughters who had no money to get married, and were looking at a life of prostitution, so St Nicolas tossed a bag of gold for their dowries into the house, and it landed in a shoe. Hence, gift giving and stockings. And finally, that there was a slave boy in Crete who had been captured from Myra, who just wanted to go home for the feast of St Nicolas, so St Nicolas appeared, plucked him away by his hair, and flew him home. Hence, flying.
  • Next step in evolution: the protestant reformation made saints’ feast days heretical; so giving gifts to children was shifted from the feast day (December 6) to Christmas, with the Christ-child taking over from St Nicolas. However, by this time St Nicolas had a reputation for punishing bad kids also – and that was a step too far for baby Jesus, so baby Jesus got helpers named some variation of Klaus who took up the punishing bad kids job. Ironically for an origin worried about idolatory, these helper Klauses were mostly based on Odin – huge, big beards, dressed in fur. (Insert It hurt itself in the confusion joke.)
  • The Dutch version is wild – Sinter Klaas lives in San Sebastian, Spain; and comes to the Netherlands every December 6 in a steamboat. His helper, a Spanish moor called Swartpiet, kidnaps bad children and takes them back to Spain on the steamboat – truly, a horrible fate.
  • Meanwhile, in the nineteenth century, Washington Irving wrote stories about sober family Christmasses in which the poor were also fed, inventing the modern version of the ‘traditional’ Christmas.
  • Then, there’s a poem named ‘The Children’s Friend’ which names Santa Claus as such in English for the first time.
  • After that comes The Night Before Christmas, which gives us the first idea of Santa Claus as merry and jolly and fat and giving gifts to children.
  • Next – George Webster’s poem Santa Claus and his Works in Harper’s Weekly’s 1866 edition; and Thomas Nast’s illustrations for that give Santa red furs – long before the Coca Cola ads, which date to the 1930s. The Coke ads probably just gave the image or idea a national reach.
  • Up to this point, the jolly Santa is a tiny, but still fat, elf. But in the 1880s, the Salvation Army started hiring people to dress up as Santas to collect chanda in the streets of New York City. And with that, the transformation to a big fat man was complete.


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