Santa Claus

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Not to be confused with his alter ego, Satan.
He's got a goat!
Gather 'round the campfire
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Urban legends

Santa Claus (aka. Father Christmas) is a nice man who brings presents to children who have been good each year.[note 1] Most American children below the age of eight believe in him [1] and more than half of Americans also believe in Santa according to at least one poll. [2]

Proof of Santa is the existence of presents in people's homes on Christmas morning.[note 2] The main counterargument to this, that parents buy and wrap the presents themselves, is preposterous. We are, in all seriousness, asked to believe that every parent in the Western world is part of some vast conspiracy. Whoever runs this conspiracy, or how it is funded and administered, is of course never stated. No, it is much easier to accept that a magic man flies all over the world in one night on a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer, and that he carries hundreds of millions of presents all at the same time. This is easy once you accept that elvesdidit.


The myth of Santa Claus seems to have originated from the person of Saint Nicholas of Myra. The personality of Santa was then modified by influences from pre-Christian Germanic and Alpine traditions as well as Dutch and Nordic folklore. Santa has some similarities to the Norse god Odin, who was said to travel abroad distributing presents and punishments in the winter.[3] Another influence was the British character Father Christmas. He was originally unconnected to Saint Nicholas, although he and Santa Claus are now generally seen as one and the same.

Saint Nicholas himself[edit]

Nicholas (born about 270 CE to 280 CE and died on December 6 in about 343 CE or 350 CE) was a Christian saint who was the Bishop of Myra (now Demre in Turkey). Some Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that he still works miracles.

In several European countries, Saint Nicholas is said to bring gifts to children on his feast day, December 6. In many areas, the kindly old Saint Nick who rewards the good kids is accompanied by an assistant who punishes the bad ones. The most frightening of those assistants is probably the devilish Krampus, who travels with Saint Nicholas in Austria and some parts of Germany.[4] The most controversial one, however, is probably Zwarte Piet ("Black Peter"), the Moorish servant (usually played by someone in blackface) who is Saint Nick's helper in the Netherlands.[5]

Orthodox icon of St. Nicholas.

Religious legends[edit]

St. Nicholas was supposed to have been born in a wealthy family in Patara, a town in Lycia in Asia Minor. The Golden Legend, a medieval hagiography by Jacobus de Voragine, claims that baby Nicholas only drank breast milk once a day on Wednesdays and Fridays. As a child he apparently spent all his time hanging around churches and at his birth he stood up in the bathtub and prayed. Actually that last story is about another St. Nicholas, not Nicholas of Myra, but it was added to Simeon Metaphrastes' 9th century life of St. Nicholas of Myra.

The legends related to his role as Santa are the story of the three bags of gold and the story of the grain ships in which he miraculously ends a famine.

The three bags of gold

There was a man in Patara who lost all his money. He thought that his three daughters could never marry and was so desperate that he believed that the only way to have some money to sell his daughters to brothels or slave traders. Nicholas heard about the situation and made up his mind to do something about it using the money he'd inherited from his parents.

Saint Nick gives gold to the three young women.

One night he sneaked out of his house carrying some gold and threw it in through the first girl's bedroom window, then ran away before he could be seen. Her father quickly arranged a marriage for her.

He did this again a month later for the second daughter, who also married in about a week. The third time he returned to the house he felt someone grab him from behind, pulling on his tunic. The man told Nicholas how grateful he was for the gold as he was on the point of selling his daughters. Nicholas said, "You should thank God instead of me, since he makes it possible for things like this to happen. Also, do NOT tell anyone about this."

The grain ships

According to this legend, the crops had failed and the people of Myra were starving. Some ships on their way to Egypt with a cargo of wheat stopped at the harbor. Saint Nicholas tried to get the ships' commander to sell him some of the grain from each ship. "No can do", said the commander. His cargo had been very carefully weighed and measured. If he didn't deliver the exact amount to Egypt, there'd be hell to pay. But Saint Nicholas was nothing if not a smooth talking whatsit and he eventually persuaded the commander to let him have a hundred bushels of grain from each ship. The grain was enough to feed all the people of Myra and beyond for two years. There was even enough left over to plant seeds and grow a successful harvest the following year. And when the commander arrived in Egypt, he found that no grain was missing from the cargo on any of his ships after all. Jolly old Saint Nicholas had worked another one of his miracles.

Saint Nicholas brings the pickled boys back to life.

In another version of the same legend, Saint Nicholas appeared in a dream to an Italian merchant. The merchant had been planning to send a ship loaded with grain to Egypt. In the dream, Saint Nicholas said that he'd give the man three gold coins if he sent the grain to Myra instead. When the merchant woke up, he found that three gold coins had miraculously appeared in his hand. Suitably impressed, he did what Saint Nick had told him to do. And that was the end of the famine.[6]

The three pickled boys

In terms of miracles, Saint Nicholas did just as well as, if not better than, Jesus himself. According to one legend, Saint Nick brought three boys back to life after their bodies had been cut into tiny pieces and put into barrels of brine,[7] which makes Lazarus look less impressive in comparison.

Old Father Christmas[edit]

A young Old Father Christmas.

The English folk character Father Christmas started out as a personification of Christmastime without any connection to Saint Nicholas. For many years, he was much more strongly associated with how grown-ups celebrated the holiday (eating too much and hitting the booze hard) than with anything to do with the kiddies.

The earliest known reference to a personified Christmas is in a mid 15th century carol, believed to have been written by a clergyman from Devon named Richard Stuart, in which some people welcome the return of "Sir Christëmas". A notable work in which Father Christmas makes an early appearance is Ben Jonson's Christmas, His MasqueWikipedia which was first performed in 1616. In the masque, the jolly old man has nine children who each represent different objects and activities with Christmassy connotations. He scoffs at the idea of Puritans trying to stop people from having fun on December 25. The pamphlets An Hue and Cry after Christmas (1645) and The Examination and Tryall of Father Christmas (1658) were both written in response to attempts by Puritans to stamp out Christmas once and for all in England and both feature the character of Father Christmas.

When Christmas started to be a big deal again in England in the 1840s, Old Father Christmas got a revival. Early Victorian images of Father Christmas typically show him with a punch bowl in his hand and a crown of holly on his head. In color images from that time, he is usually, although not always, shown wearing red.

It was in the 1870s, probably under the influence of both American Santa Claus customs and continental European Saint Nicholas ones, that British people started to think of Father Christmas as the geezer who brings the prezzies.[8] In the UK nowadays, "Father Christmas" and "Santa Claus" are generally considered to be two different names for the same character.

Santa and Christianity[edit]

Christian opposition[edit]

Come to the dark side! We have presents!

It seems that Santa is not universally popular with Christians and some of them have suggested that, due in part to the tradition of Santa Claus, Christmas no longer carries the originally intended Christian significance.[9] They even go as far as to claim that Santa is an inadequate secular Christmastime substitute for God. [10]

Even more radically, some claim that Santa is, or is a representation of, the Devil. As evidence of this claim it is noted that Santa is an anagram of Satan,[11] and that both are often depicted wearing red. (Though that might tend to make people wonder about "dog" being an anagram of "god.") It is perhaps fortunate that people who think this way are mostly not well-read enough to have heard of the aforementioned Zwarte Piet.

Furthermore they claim that it is damaging to children when they learn the truth of Santa's nonexistence or when they come to believe the conspiracies against Santa.[12] When it is pointed out that this could be taken as an important lesson in misplaced religious faith, most Christians (perhaps not unsurprisingly) would indignantly assert that - presents notwithstanding - there is more evidence for the existence of God than for Santa.[13] Nevertheless, in reality, the basis that most Christians have for belief in either God or Santa is exactly the same - it is something that their parents told them was true when they were young.

Should adults lie... Erm.. That is to say.... Should adults tell children the truth that Santa Claus is real? Opinions vary. [14]

Belief in Santa Claus and religious beliefs[edit]

Santa, Jesus and pals.
(Please tell me that's his knee!)

Belief in Santa Claus in fact has parallels with belief in a deity. Although this comparison has been interpreted as an attempt to belittle religion, such an interpretation is based on the inaccurate assumption that the only similarity to be noted is that, like Santa, religion is silly and childish. However, real parallels between Santa and a religious deity can in fact be identified that are not intended to belittle either.

Like many gods, Santa Claus is said to be ageless, all-knowing, and ever-present. These legends of Santa were imparted to us through stories and songs taught to us as children by our parents and other trusted sources. We took the stories on faith, despite the lack of evidence, and explained away their unsoundness and inconsistencies. We wanted to believe in them because of their message of goodness. It was comforting to believe in something greater than ourselves and to be regarded as the recipients of special attention. Thus fear belief in Santa was used to elicit good behavior from us by the promise of reward and threat of punishment.

As we matured we realized that there was a rational explanation for all of the observed phenomena that we attributed to Santa Claus, and our suspicion that he did not exist was eventually confirmed by our parents. This is where the analogy between Santa and a deity fails, as there is no one to tell us that our religious faith is unfounded.


Some Christians like to claim "ho ho ho" means 666 because of how many letters between H and O. There is at least one other complex number system that gets to 666 somehow.[15][16] Amazon is also in on the deal.[17] The fairly obvious problem with this notion is that the Book of Revelation wasn't written in the language of Jesusland.

In Soviet Russia[edit]

...Christmas celebrates you!

But seriously, folks.

In the Soviet Union, a Santa Claus-like figure of pre-Christian origin was once made persona non grata for being too Christian but was later rehabilitated and made into a good communist.

Grandfather Frost still in the blue that the reds made him wear.

Grandfather Frost {Russian: Дед Мороз; Ded Moroz; literally "Old Man Frost") is a figure from Slavic mythology who predates the coming of Christianity to Russia. He was originally a spirit of winter who was sometimes helpful but sometimes cruel. There are stories of him kidnapping children and holding them for ransom. Over time, largely due to the influence of popular works of literature about him, Grandfather Frost came to be seen as a kindly old man and took on the role that Santa Claus had in the west, giving the kiddies presents instead of abducting them. The Russian Orthodox Church didn't seem to have much of a problem with him.

The atheist communists who came to power after the 1917 Russian Revolution didn't like Grandfather Frost much. To some, this white-bearded old man who rewarded his believers looked suspiciously like a children's god.[18] His connection with the Christian holiday of Christmas certainly went against him. In 1928, Grandfather Frost was officially declared an "ally of the priest" who ought to be shunned. But less than a decade later, it was decided that Christmas-like celebrations for the New Year were OK in the officially godless USSR after all. That meant that Grandfather Frost was back! In 1937, however, Joseph Stalin insisted that Grandfather Frost had to always wear blue so that there was no way anyone could ever confuse him with the capitalist American Santa Claus in his red and white suit. When Grandfather Frost made personal appearances during Stalin's time, he gave speeches extolling the virtues of communism and Stalin himself. [19]

In post-communist times, there have been attempts to present Grandfather Frost to the Russian people as a unique character who represents the spirit of the nation and is superior to Santa Claus in every possible way.[20]

See also[edit]

Want to read this in another language?[edit]

Kristnaska Viro estas versio de ĉi tiu artikolo en Esperanton.

Papá Noel es la versión en español de este artículo.

Si vous voulez cet article en français, il peut être trouvé à Père Noël.

External links[edit]


  1. He’s real, NORAD has spotted him and tracked his progress. [1]
  2. What? You think you've got a more reasonable explanation than that?