From reflexive or totally kitsch commercials to postcards, through movies and giant dolls that scare passersby shouting “Oh-oh-oh merry Christmas!”, during the Christmas holydays, the image of Santa Claus echoes in every single aspect of daily life. With his wise and patient look and the unique red pointy hat with a tender pom-pom, the imaginary of him built by modern culture has evolved over the past centuries and around the world.
Starting from the name, Italian Babbo Natale, in English-speaking countries, is commonly called Santa Claus, a link, even though some different of meanings, to only one historical character of the Christian tradition: St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, whose relics were partially translated by 62 sailors and brought to Bari, in Italy, on May 9, 1087. The cult of the saint, that quickly grew up in Europe, has spread also in Netherlands: here, St. Nicholas is considered the patron-saint of Amsterdam, he is called Sinterklaas (by linguistic evolution the name has changed in the most popular Santa Claus) and every year, on December 5 and 6, people celebrate the saint donating gifts. Over the years, the strong religious influence catch on the image of a man with bishop’s robes, wearing the miter – a liturgical headdress with golden cross – and the crook, a staff curved at the top.
A representation, with necessary changes to conform to local folklore, that is still present in northern Europe with the most common version of Santa Claus, cheerful and plump, conveyed in mass culture from the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”, written in 1823, by American writer Clement Clarke Moore. A poetry, also known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas” or as “The Night Before Christmas,” that has instilled, in parents’ and children’s eyes, the image of a good elf with white beard, red suit fur and leather belt, driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer, with a sack full of toys to donate during the night between December 24 and 25. So, on the day of the birth of Jesus – according to most Western Christian churches and Greek-orthodox – belief and secularism are increasingly mixed up: following the progressive Western secularised, Christmas has taken holidays connotations also for non-Christians, saving both values linked to the family or to the solidarity and negative and consumerist ones related to gift exchanges and the figure of Santa Claus.
Coca Cola (that didn’t invent the red elf suit like someone erroneously said) used the allegory of Moore to create his own Santa Claus: the popular drink company, in the past, had already introduced him in its commercials with an evil, unfriendly and hostile look. When, in 1931, the company began to making advertising on the most popular magazines, even the Elf’s trait started to soften and to be more realistic. The cartoonist Haddon Sundblom chose, for his illustrations, the sweet version narrated by Clement Clark Moore: Sundblom chose, as a model, his friend Lou Prentiss, a retired salesman; then, after his death, he began using himself as a model, drawing back in the mirror, before using photographs.
There is another version which tells about a bearded man, dressed with a green, long and ornate cloak, from Charles Dickens poem “A Christmas Carol”: he symbolizes the Ghost of Christmas Present. Flying animals, a man with a bushy white beard and hat are common images that look like the tradition of the Germanic god Odin. In fact, before converting to Christianity, among the Germanic people there was the story of a mysterious bearded god that hunts during the winter solstice. The children had to hang up their boots next to the fireplace and fill them with food to feed Spleipnir, the flying horse of Odin. As a reward, Odin would donate gifts or candy. Later, the echo of this tradition came to America through the Dutch colonies and nowadays is still very popular.
FROM JOINT HERE SOME OF LAST YEAR ILLUSTATION: