Jolly Old St Nick

Sunday, 7 December 2008

As of this blog post, it’s only a short time until Santa sneaks into Beijing, his sack stuffed with splendid treats for good little boys and girls. Lucky the Good Children List has now gone on the world wide web, otherwise how on earth would Santa know how to find expat kids living in Beijing?

Santa appears to many Western kids in a red, fur trimmed suit bursting at the seams, but this image is a relatively new incarnation. The modern day version of the jolly Santa Claus who whisks across the star-sprinkled skies in his sleigh, is believed to be an amalgamation of images brought to life in the early 19th Century. Writer Clement Clarke Moore in The Night Before Christmas described Santa dressed from head to foot in fur, with a jelly belly, cherry-like nose and a beard white as snow. He also gave Santa eight reindeer (can you name them all? answer below) and even devised his chimney deliveries.

Forty-one years later, in 1863, caricaturist Thomas Nast developed his own version of Santa, giving him a long white beard, but it wasn’t until the 1930s that Santa morphed into the ubiquitous red suit-wearing fellow we know today, thanks to a Christmas ad campaign by Coca Cola who dressed Santa in his jolly red and white uniform.

Worldwide, the origins of Santa Claus are said to come from the Patron Saint of Giving known as St. Nicholas. Traditions and customs surrounding Sinter Klaas (the original Dutch Santa) have shifted and changed over the centuries. In England, he is known as Father Christmas, in Greece he’s Hagios Nikolaos. In Japan, it’s Santa no ojisan and in Morocco he is Black Peter. In Russia he is called Grandfather Frost, in Brazil and Peru it’s Papa Noel and in France – Père Noël.

In Italy, Santa is known as Babbo Natale, and an old woman – La Befana – also leaves gifts for kids on January 5. Germans know Santa Claus as Saint Nikolaus, however, children receive presents from Christindl, the Christ Child. Likewise, for many Latin American countries, el Niño Jesus leaves presents for good boys and girls. In Peurto Rico, kids receive gifts from the Three Kings. In Scandanavian countries, presents are brought to children on Christmas Eve by Julenisse – tiny magical creatures who bring good luck. In Australia, where Christmas lays smack bang in the sweltering heat of summer, Santa wears swimming trunks, drinks beer and goes surfing.

Whatever your nationality or beliefs, Shengdan Laoren and his red suit champions the true spirit of Christmas – a time to give back, to share, to spread peace and bring joy. We do this through food, through merriment and gift-giving. We do this through coming together. And kids… by being good!

To quote Mr. Moore - happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night.

If you would like to write to Santa directly at his workshop in the North Pole, here is the address. And yes – it is really, truly the official address of the man in red. Jiàndé.

Mr and Mrs Claus
96930 Artic Circle
Phone: 0011 35 8 16 36 2255
Fax: 0011 35 8 16 36 2007

A footnote for skeptics – a little bit of faith goes a long way… “ Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”.

Read more about the origins of Santa at the Santa FAQ Page.

Do you know your reindeer?

Now Dasher! now Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On Comet! On Cupid! on Donner and Blitzen!
And let’s not forget Rudolph…

First published on the beijingkids website.

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