The Legend of Santa Claus

OK-it's that time of year, again, when you're no longer The Most Influential Adult in your kids' eyes. You've been replaced, at least temporarily, by The Fat Man, The Jolly One, The Old White Beard, himself. In some ways, it's actually a good thing, because as Christmas approaches, you find it a little easier to enforce your rules and affect some unexpectedly good behavior:

"You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I'm tellin' you why"

That song alone can shut down a five-year-old's tantrum faster than cotton candy. You even find yourself, at times, wishing that Christmas would come around, at least once a month. Who's the genius that invented this guy?

He's only part invention, and you've probably heard this at some point in your life, but chances are, you've forgotten.

The modern version of Santa Claus can trace his lineage back to Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna-in what is now Turkey-who lived in the late 3rd century, AD. Legend has it that he was very wealthy, and dedicated to helping the poor, especially poor children. Supposedly, he often tossed toys and gifts in through the windows of their homes. After his death, he was named by the church as the patron saint of children and seafarers. St. Nicholas's name day is in December, and in Europe during the Middle Ages, he came to be associated with the Christmas season, and with bringing gifts to children.

In the early versions of his legend, he wore red bishop's robes, and rode through the sky on a horse, often accompanied by an elf named Black Peter, whose task was to punish bad children.

In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas's name was shortened to Sinter Klaas, a name brought to the Dutch settlements of New York in the 17th century. Author Washington Irving, in his 1809 "History Of New York" described the Dutch version of the saint, but it was undoubtedly Clement Clarke Moore's 1823 poem, "A Visit From Saint Nicholas" (commonly known as "Twas The Night Before Christmas") that cemented the relationship of the "jolly old elf" with Christmas Eve. It was also the first time the Big Guy's reindeer, and his use of the chimney as his entrance, were mentioned in print.

From the 1860's through the 1890's, illustrator Thomas Nast produced a series of illustrations of St. Nick for Harper's Magazine, which included details such as Santa's workshop, the elves who made toys, and Santa's "list" of children who'd been naughty and nice.

Our modern Santa was certainly "born" in the series of illustrations used by the Coca-Cola Company, beginning in the 1930's. Along the way, someone ingeniously decided that Santa lived in a remote, nearly inaccesible location, the North Pole, presumably to discourage inquisitive children from persuading their parents to take them for a visit.

It's always a bittersweet moment for parents, when they realize that their children no longer believe in Santa Claus. But every parent's dirty secret is that it's not just a moment about lost innocence and growing up too fast. It's also a moment that presents a new challenge:

"Oh no. Now what can I use to get them to behave?"

Brought to you by Imaginary Greetings, a regular contributor of valuable family oriented content. Learn how to truly light up your child's eyes this holiday season like never before with a personalized phone call from Santa.

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