December 23, 2008
Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He’s a man of a thousand faces and a hundred and one aliases. But just who is this guy who annually breaks into our homes to leave us presents? The Smithsonian Channel’s new program, “In Search of Santa Claus”, tries to detangle the intricate web of Santa Claus lore, beginning with Saint Nicholas of Myra and culminating with the modern incarnations of the jolly old soul.
Believe me, it’s easier trying to bait this guy with cookies and steal a peek at him on Christmas Eve than it is to figure out his life story.
Here’s all the verifiable information we have about the real-life Saint Nick: he was a popular fourth-century bishop of Myra. Yup, that’s about it. Leaves a lot to the imagination, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what happened.
Several legends developed around the man and his reputation as a philanthropist. One involved him saving kidnapped children from a butcher intending to serve them up to his customers. (Sounds like something from another story, yes?) Another has him giving a sack of gold each to three girls so that they might have a dowry to get married. (The universal emblem of pawnbrokers is sometimes said to have come from this legend.) The Saint Nicholas mythology snowballed as the figure became increasingly popular throughout Europe—where different regions had their own spin on the figure, adapting him into their own stories and legends—and later, the United States where he became a pop culture icon in the early 20th century.
Cultures throughout the Western World have their own variations on the Santa Claus story. What are some of the Santa stories that you’ve come to know and love?
“In Search of Santa Claus” will air on the Smithsonian Channel on December 24 at 1, 5, and 9 PM and on December 25 at 12:00 A.M. and then 12, 8 and 11 P.M. Preview video clips are available on their site.
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