" is the most famous of the myriad of traditions surrounding the Christmas
season. He is one of the most enduring global personifications of the
Santa now enjoys a nearly universal image as
the jolly plump gentleman carrying his bag of toys, steering his reindeer and
sliding down chimneys. This image we all have of him is relatively new,
considering how long he has been part of the culture of virtually all peoples
for hundreds of years.
The primary reason Santa Claus was not always
perceived in the same form as he is today was the primitive means of
communication available in those early times, combined with the slow
intermingling of cultures and religious beliefs.
When Christianity spread throughout the Old
World, the drama of the first Christmas was told to each succeeding generation.
Gift giving commemorated the generosity of the
three wise men
who traveled to Bethlehem
gold Frankinsence and myrrh as gifts
Three hundred years later a man named Nicholas
was born in what is now Turkey. It was not long before legends began
spreading about him and the marvelous deeds reputed to him. One of the
legends directly concerned the giving of gifts demonstrating his concern for
those in need.
was eventually to become one of
the most universally revered saints, a patron of many occupations and even some
nations. Although Canonized by the Roman Catholic Church in the ninth
century, it is generally believed this official sainthood status earlier.
St. Nicholas' death of December 6th made that
date on the calendar his special day. The various cultural and religious
rites commemorating St. Nicholas day gradually became associated with Christmas
as an extension of the holiday season.
The melding of Christianity with pagan cultures
over the centuries, through the Crusades, the movement of nomadic tribes, and
conversion, gradually provided St. Nicholas with a unique role in each culture.
As with the role he played, the visual perception of him differed as well.
In some areas his image was shaped by the belief in the pagan god Odin. In others,
Saturn played a major role.
The various images of the man and legend Santa Claus has brightened the lives of nearly every young child in the world
for over a thousand years.
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