The Legend of the Santa

Christmas is here. Surrounded by festive lights and Santa & reindeer figurines and posers in my apartment block, one can’t help but soak in the joyful atmosphere.

Since Nina & Nana are away at North Pole this week in search of Santa, they gave me permission to go ahead and talk about the Santa stories that Nina helpfully shared with me before they left on their quest.

Most of us know that the Santa Claus legend is based on the real life of the Greek Bishop Saint Nicholas who was born in modern day Turkey. Santa is often depicted as a fat, jolly bearded man wearing a red coat with white fur collar and cuffs, white-fur-cuffed red trousers, red hat with white fur, and black leather belt and boots and carrying a bag full of gifts for children.

This Santa imagery didn’t happen until 1823 (even though Saint Nicholas was a 4th century patron saint) when a poem called “A visit from Saint Nicholas was published by Thomas Nast. This poem popularized the now common imagery of a portly, jolly Santa delivering Christmas gifts to children on a sleigh drawn by reindeer.

According to the legends that spawned after the poem was published, Santa Claus is said to make “nice” & “naughty” lists of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior, and to deliver presents, including toys and candy, to all of the well-behaved children in the world, and coal to all the misbehaving children, on the night of Christmas Eve. His faithful elves are said to work all year round to make all these presents ready for Christmas eve.

However, contrary to popular belief, Santa wasn’t the only legend that Saint Nicholas spawned. Other Christmas traditions around the world include the myth of Christkind or Kris Kringle who accompanied St. Nicholas to deliver presents to well-behaved Swiss and German children. In Scandinavia, Jultomten, the jolly elf delivers gifts in a goat-drawn sleigh. In the UK, popular tradition holds that Father Christmas visits each home on Christmas Eve to fill children’s stockings with holiday treats.

In Russia, there is the much discussed tale of Babouschka (the word means Grandmother in Russian) who according to the legend hosted the three wise men in search of Jesus as her house had the reputation of being the tidiest in the whole village. She, however, declined to accompany the wise men when they set out on their journey in search of Jesus as she wanted to tidy her house and belongings (including toys which she intended to give to baby Jesus at a later point). When she followed in their wake a few days later, the Bethlehem Innkeeper mentioned that she had missed seeing Baby Jesus by a few days. Popular tradition now has it that Babouschka visits Russian children on January 5, leaving gifts at their bedsides in the hope that one of them is the baby Jesus and he gets the gifts she has been treasuring for a long time.

In Italy, La Befana is depicted as a kindly witch who rides a broomstick down the chimneys of Italian homes to deliver toys on Epiphany Eve (a feast day in honour of Jesus) on January 6, into the stockings of lucky children.

So, has Santa visited you this year yet? Nina has promised to whatsapp me her Santa selfies if and when she finds him. Tweet out yours too with #NinaAndNana if you find Santa lurking in your vicinity.

This post is a part of the #NinaAndNana series I co-host with Kanika G. Her posts can be found here.


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