Christmas is coming up in two days, and seeing as I greatly dislike the artificial, commmercial cheer that's generally prevalent around this unfortunate time, I'd rather blog about something else than how pretty the decorations at Orchard Road this year are, or how crowded but lovely the shopping malls are. (Okay, so the decorations are pretty, but. Whatever.)
Still, I guess Christmas is a blogworthy thing, so here I go.
Santa Claus (aka Sandy Claws for those enlightened ones who have watched The Nightmare Before Christmas and actually know who Jack Skellington is, other than a random skeleton decorating so many purses and bags and etc now) apparently appears in many sources.
The most common one that people know of is Saint Nicholas, a Greek Christian bishop who lived in a province of the Byzantine Anatolia- which in modern times would be in Turkey. He was famous for his generousity- a story of his in particular records him giving gifts of gold coins to three extremely impoverished sisters so that they wouldn't have to become prostitutes. (There is a lot I could say about women's rights in the past, but this post is about Santa after all.) In one version, he throws the purse down the chimney, and it lands in the stockings which one of the sisters had washed and left out to dry, which would explain the tradition of leaving Christmas presents in stockings. (Not like we practice it here though. And there's no chimneys around here. Meh.)
Interestingly enough, Saint Nicholas is not only one of the theorized origins of Santa Claus, but he is also the patron saint of quite a few things: children (well, duh), sailors, fishermen, merchants, repentant thieves, prostitutes, pawnbrokers, the falsely accused and of many cities. Santa Claus is a very busy man, it seems, even outside of the holiday season.
Another source draws similarities between the Nordic god Odin, and Santa Claus; both are portrayed as bearded and wise old men, and Odin apparently gives gifts too, though less selflessly as Santa Claus. Before Christmas, there was a Germanic holiday called 'Yule' (this is where Yuletide comes from, guys), and on the eve of Yule, children would leave out things like carrots, hay and sugar in their boots near the chimney for Sleipnir, Odin's eight-legged horse. In return, Odin would gift the children as thanks for Sleipnir's food.
This practice was continued, but meshed into the existing Christian traditions of the time as Christianity continued its growing influence over the rest of the world.
Actually, sometimes, I think it's amazing how Christianity managed to convert so many, by taking the holidays of other religions and making them their own. IMO, it's a smart and tactical move, since it's a compromise on both parties' part (i.e. the Christians and the 'pagans'), and well. You just have to look at the world's current stand on religion to know hw effective that has been. Doesn't mean I like it any better though.
For example, recently there has been an article that says Jesus' birthday may actually have been on the 17th of June; however, to the Joe on the street, Jesus was born on the 25th of December. But originally, as mentioned above, the 25th of December was Yule, and less famously, it is the day after winter solstice. In Greek mythology, the 25th was a day when people held a feast in Apollo's name to implore him to bring the sun back after winter (and therefore spring). There was a similar festival for the Romans, who apparently had this day marked for Sol Invictus (who's basically the Roman incarnation of Apollo, butcreated by a king, and anyway, I have no love for the Roman culture), but that is just repetition.
So. The origins of Christmas in a nutshell; there are various other sources for this, and Wikipedia although not always accurate, is a very good starting point for research. Oh, and Christianity is apparently really good at appropriating other dates too, since they were pretty much downtrodden and unpopular in the past; Easter is another date that they snagged from the 'pagans'. (Eostre was the goddess of the spring, and Easter was her day originally. I think if the gods were real, they'd be fuming so much right now.)