Successfully Yours: Santa Claus

by Dr. Iain Corness

Being the time of the year when people send Xmas cards and gifts to each other, I thought it might be a good time to interview one of the mainstays of the season. Father Christmas himself, the jolly old Ho-Ho-Ho man who has touched all our lives in one way or another when we were younger.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with the man in the red suit and ermine trim during a brief stop-over in Thailand, after he had to change his travel plans when he was asked not to visit shopping centers in Australia this year, as some decision makers had decreed that Santa was no longer “politically correct” being allied to the Christian religion (even though it is the professed majority religion in that country). I asked Santa about this and he expressed great regret. “The decision makers did not consult the children,” was all that I could get him to say. However, I was able to get close to him, despite his girth, and unravel some of the mysteries that make up modern day Santa Claus.

Santa was born around 245 AD (788 BE) in Patara in Lycia, Anatolia, a province on the southwest coast of Asia Minor (present day Turkey). He was a good and obedient student and this is one reason why he has always favoured children who have been well behaved during the year. He did not come from a very rich family, and he often had to do without. This was to have a great bearing on his actions later in life.

Following many years at school where he studied under the local priests, he felt that his calling was in the priesthood and joined the church, eventually working his way up through the system, becoming a bishop. This was when he felt that he could really begin to help people in the local society.

However, Santa was not one to show his generosity publicly. He would walk quietly in disguise around his parish and give gifts and food to poor children. He had the ability to find out who was suffering, and do his best to help. It was on one of these trips that he inadvertently started a legend. A nobleman with three daughters had fallen on hard times and he was unable to pay for their dowries, dooming his daughters to spinsterhood. Santa explained reluctantly what happened next. “I collected the dowry for one daughter and threw it through the open window one night. The next day I collected for the second and threw it through the window as well. After collecting for the third daughter I found the window had been closed as it was a bitter winter’s night, so I climbed up on the roof and dropped the sack down the chimney. It turned out the girls had left their stockings hanging from the mantle-piece, and some of the money ended up in the stockings. From then on, people would hang up their stockings at Xmas.”

From events such as this, the legend of Santa grew, so I took the opportunity to ask Santa about some of the other pieces of folklore associated with him and Xmas time. Firstly, the reindeer. “The secret about the way I travel around the world at Xmas was let out by Clement C. Moore in 1823, who wrote ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’, which told everyone about my reindeer. Rudolph is the most famous, of course, but he needs Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, to help.”

One of the other pieces of folklore is the fact that the children should leave out some cookies and milk for Santa when he calls in the middle of the night. Santa said there was much more to this than just a snack for a hungry sock filler! “This came from the Paradise Tree from Western Germany, where the home would have a tree decorated with cookies and wafers. I began to get so hungry that I would have one or two and people eventually heard that I needed something to nibble, so they would put out a special plate by the fire, just for me.”

For someone who only comes out once a year and is seen by so few people, I thought it amazing that everyone knows what Santa looks like. Santa knows the reason for this too, “Thomas Nast was the first artist to draw me as a fat and jolly old man. He was born in 1840 in Landau, Baden, Germany and became an American cartoonist after arriving in the United States at the age of six. He must have been hiding in the kitchen when I came down his chimney and remembered what I looked like; however, after all the cookies since then, I am even fatter now!”

Since Santa does not “belong” to any one country these days, I asked him what other names was he known by. He replied, “In southern Germany some people call me Kris Kringle. In France I am Pere Noel and Papa Noel in many Spanish speaking countries. In Dutch speaking areas I am Sinte Klaas, while other people call me Sant Nikolaas. In Denmark I am ‘Julemanden’ (Christmas Man), while in Finland they call me Joulupukki.”

It was all too soon that the legendary figure told me he would have to go back to the North Pole, where he and Mrs. Claus and the elves were hard at work finishing off the toys for good boys and girls. I am lucky that I could catch a glimpse in my later life of someone who lived in my tender years. I must thank my mother and late father for helping keep the spirit of Santa alive during my childhood, a spirit that I passed on to my children. Hopefully they too will do the same with theirs. Santa Claus is much too nice a concept, in every way, to be allowed to die. Australia, you should be ashamed!