Have you ever wondered how we ended up believing in Santa Claus? In common imagination, he is a tall man with a long white beard and a round belly who wears red trousers and a jacket, both with fluffy white borders. He also has a matching hat and black boots. Sometimes he wears glasses as he’s quite old.
Santa Claus lives in Rovaniemi, in Lapland (the largest and northernmost region of Finland) situated inside the Arctic Polar Circle. He lives in a freezing place, with a lot of snow, and to move around, he uses a reindeer sleigh.
So how did we end up knowing Santa Claus as we do today?
History of Saint Nicholas: from Bishop to Santa Claus
Saint Nicholas of Myra, Nicholas of Bari, San Nicola Magno, Santa Klaus, or Nicholas the Wonderworker are all the names of the probably-most-famous Saint of the Christian religion.
Nicholas was presumably born in the city of Patana in the region of Lycia, in present-day Turkey, around the year 270 AD. His family was noble and well-to-do, but soon his parents passed away, and Nicola decided to use his wealth to help the less well off. He soon became a priest in the city of Myra and later bishop of it.
Numerous miracles are attributed to Saint Nicholas, such as the resurrection of three children murdered by an innkeeper and the end of the city’s famine. He also managed to calm a storm at sea and save three unjustly convicted officers from certain death.
But they are not the only miracles attributed to St. Nicholas. It is said that a father who fell from grace and was forced to prostitute his three daughters asked the Saint for help. Saint Nicholas threw three sacks full of gold coins into the window for three consecutive nights. For this reason, the Saint is often pictured carrying bags of gold. Today, he is the Patron Saint of children, unmarried girls, sailors, pharmacists, lawyers, merchants, fishers, and judicial errors’ victims.
Saint Nicholas died in Myra on December 6. On May 9, 1087, his remains were stolen by 62 sailors who left Bari’s port to save them from the Muslims who had conquered the city at that time. Later, more remains of the Saint were found in Myra; they were transported to Italy and kept in the Church of San Nicolò in the Porto del Lido under the Serenissima’s dominion.
Saint Nicholas is celebrated both on December 6, the date on which his death occurs, and on May 9, the day on which the sailors of Bari saved his remains. San Nicola is the Patron Saint of the city of Bari.
The legend says that the night between 5 and 6 December, the Saint presents sweets to good children and coal to those who have been naughty. In some places, it was customary to give tangerines to children on the morning of December 6.
Saint Nikolaus, or Santa Klaus, protector of children, soon became the bearded and red-dressed Santa Claus we all know and who brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve.
How the legend of the Krampus was born
In the small mountain villages, the story tells that during a period of famine, young people decided to raid the neighboring towns, disguising themselves with fur and animal horns to avoid being recognized.
One day they realized that there was a demon among them. They discovered it because it had goat’s hooves instead of feet. They then decided to ask for help from Bishop Nicholas, who defeated the demon and transformed him into his servant.
The Krampus parades take place today in the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in Italy, as well as in Austria, Bavaria, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Hungary.
At the parade’s head, Saint Nicholas, with his pastoral staff, distributes gifts to the children. The Krampus run after him and the people to hit them with whips and rods.
The Krampus tradition is not only a Christian celebration but finds its roots in pagan beliefs. With their screams and cowbells, the Krampus had the task of chasing away the evil spirits typically related to the winter.
Krampus and Santa Claus are among the most popular examples of how Christianity absorbed and converted pagan festivities. Taking part in one of the many parades is a unique experience.
Big fires light the dark nights; scary creatures make noises to terrify the spectators and hit them with sorghum brooms and sticks. It’s a crazy night, but just for fun.