Many letters are written right now
to Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Heiliger Nikolaus,
Sinterklaas, not only by children I am told. There are many people living
alone, or being sick, living in Old Age Homes without any family and by this
time of the year they start to remember. Childhood is just around the corner.
The first snowflakes were falling and the crystals setting on the window panes;
the room was warm and the house smelling of cookies…..and we children tried to
compose our letter to the figure of whom we knew that our wishes and sorrows
were welcome and that he had the power to fulfil them. He would understand our
problems and find a way. He was above our parents and would make them
understand…So we thought, and for many he still is an authority.
Who is this figure and where does
he come from? Why is this legendary figure still so firmly established in our
modern times? And why has the tradition found entrance into other religions?
My answer to the last two questions
is: We all need a figure who mends our problems, heals our wounds and fulfils
our dreams. We cannot live without dreams and it does not harm anybody to
direct one’s wishes to a figure that is supposed to do just that. Apart from
that it helps to promote business because at no other time the purse strings
are willingly loosened.
History tells us many stories of
Santa Claus’s origin, and many believe that he lives in Christmas Village at
the North Pole where one can address letters to….”Dear Father Christmas, please
make my father feel better again and I want …”….in the old days it was an
electric train or a baby doll, today it is rather an IPad….
If you put all the stories on the
table, you can find a pattern: Odin, god in Northern Germanic Europe, gave the
basic image to the figure of Santa Claus. At a certain time of the year, the
midwinter event of Yule, he led the Wild Hunt across the sky, a ghostly
appearance which looked like a sledge pulled by animals, first it was horses,
later it became elks, a god figure bringing gifts down to the world. To him
also goes the long white beard and when Christianity took over these traits
were incorporated in the now and ever traditional figure.
Another important figure of the
past is Saint Nicholas of Myra (Demre) in Lykia, Anatolia in Turkey. He was a
Christian Bishop in the 4th century, famous for his generosity to
the poor. It is said that the City of Bari mounted an expedition in 1087 to
locate the tomb of the saint. The relics were taken by Italian sailors – but
only half of the skeleton - and brought
to Bari where they are kept to this day; the other half was collected by
Venetian sailors during the first crusade and brought to Venice. He has become
a patron saint for many diverse groups, among them the children. So, Italy claims to be the home of
Santa Claus and not at the North Pole.
Every country added a little bit to
the legendary figure, who in some countries descends with his sledge to earth
on different days and in different ways. In countries with cold winters Santa
Claus would come through the chimney, in others he would land in the garden and
knock at the door of the house. In English speaking countries Santa Claus leaves
his presents in the night of 25 December, in others on December 6. In German
speaking countries we have the Christ Child as peace and present bringing
figure on December 24.
In the alpine regions of Germany
and Austria - also in former Habsburg empire countries such as Northern Italy,
Hungary, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Croatia - there is not only the ‘Heilige
Nikolaus’ but also his partner the ‘Krampus’ a beast-like creature who does the
punishing, so Nikolaus may just do the rewarding. His figure, it is said, is
based on the son of HEL from Northern mythology.
The Christmas season in Northern
Cyprus is usually – at least for the last couple of years – been announced by
abundant street decoration, chains of light everywhere, bambis and Santa
Clauses in shop windows, the season business people are hoping to make the big
profit of the year. This year there is no Christmas decoration because of
unpaid electricity bills. That is fair enough. Charity organisations are
getting ready to entertain the Christmas traditionalists of any nationality,
Turkish people join in and their children pose with a live Father
Christmas/Santa Claus and sit on his lap for a photo. Also Muslims want to
participate because they also need a figure to look after their wellbeing.
Our Christmas markets look after
the needy ones, the ones in trouble with cancer, children in need, and
neglected animals and many people give a helping hand, that is the deeper
meaning of Christmas.