There are questions that do not lose their relevance over time. One of them is about the main gifts giver of the New Year holidays. There are at least three possible answers.
This might be popular Saint Nicholas in Ukraine, the American-European Santa Claus, or Father Frost, who in recent years is increasingly reminded of his Soviet past.
St Nicholas. Santa's progenitor
Any child can answer the question of where Santa Claus comes to us – from the North Pole. However, in fact, the historical journey of this kind wizard is longer and more fantastic than his annual trip around the world.
The progenitor of modern Santa was born in the Mediterranean Sea (on the territory of modern Turkey) during the Roman Empire. It was the bishop of the city of Myra, better known now as Saint Nicholas.
"Unlike some Christian saints who are revered and remembered by a few pious people, Nicholas is glorified by both religious and non-religious people. His influence goes beyond the walls of the church and beyond the pages of church history," Professor Adam English said in a comment to DW. Head of the Department of Religion and Philosophy, Campbell University in North Carolina.
Saint Nicholas was loved and revered during his lifetime for his good deeds. One of the most popular stories tells that he saved the family of a bankrupt merchant, who, unable to provide his daughters with a dowry (without this, they could not get married), decided to send the girls to work – to engage in prostitution.
Saint Nicholas heard about their plight and one night secretly threw sacks of gold to the merchant through the window, which helped the poor head of the family not only marry his daughters, but also restore his well-being.
Some versions of this story say that gold got either in stockings or in shoes that were dried by the fireplace, hence the tradition of putting gifts for children in special Christmas socks.
There is another story, less popular and creepier. Once Saint Nicholas entered a hotel, the owner of which killed three boys and marinated their dismembered bodies in basement barrels. The saint resurrected the children, after which they began to consider him the patron saint of children.
As the popularity of Saint Nicholas spread throughout Europe in the years after his death, the tradition of giving gifts on the night of December 6 began to emerge (it is assumed that the bishop died on this day).
Presents for children are brought by a saint dressed in church clothes, including a miter (bishop's headdress) and a staff. He is accompanied by angels and Krampus (something like evil hairy devils who threaten to beat or kidnap naughty children).
Often children leave letters to St. Nicholas and carrots or grass for his donkey, on which he is believed to move
This holiday remains popular today, especially in parts of northern Europe and the German-speaking regions. The Catholic Church celebrates the memory of St. Nicholas on December 6, and Orthodox Christians on December 19.
How the image of Saint Nicholas was transformed into Santa Claus
With the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation (the 1500s), the veneration of saints was considered idolatry and the practice of celebrating St. Nicholas' Day fell into decay. But not in all countries.
In the Netherlands, where the saint was known as Sinterklaas, this tradition continued. A little later, in the 17th century, Dutch colonists brought the story of a kind gift-giver to the American colonies. There, the English-speaking colonists of America began to call Sinterklaas the popular Santa Claus today.
Poets and writers, who strove to make Christmas a family holiday, put their hand to the creation of the image of Santa Claus that we recognize today.
For example, in Washington Irving's book A Story of New York as Told by Diedrich Knickerbocker (1809), the Christmas wizard was depicted smoking a pipe and hovering over rooftops in a flying van, in which he delivers gifts to good girls and boys.
In 1822, after Clement Clarke Moore's poem The Visit of St. Nicholas appeared, the gift giver acquired reindeer, and by the early 20th century he had completely changed his church dress for a red fur suit and began descending the chimneys on Christmas Eve.
Having established himself in America, Santa undertook a kind of return migration to Europe but adopted the local names. For example, in Finland, he is known as Yolupukki, in Italy Babbo Natale brings gifts to children, in Germany – Weinachtsman, in Georgia – Tovlis Babua, in Portugal – Pai Natal, and so on.
It is believed that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole (or in the far north of Scandinavia) and travels on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. In order to collect and deliver gifts on time, he has assistants - elves.
Father Frost and his Soviet past
The attitude towards Santa Claus in modern culture is rather contradictory. Firstly, because of its Soviet past. After the communists "canceled" Christmas, they had to look for a replacement for St. Nicholas.
Therefore, in January 1937, the guests at the New Year's holiday in the Moscow House of Unions were greeted not by the revered saint, but by Santa Claus – an old man with a white beard in a red fur coat, accompanied by his granddaughter Snihurochka.
Secondly. Santa Claus is considered a mythological creature and there are rumors that he is not very kind. In particular, among the ancient Slavs, he was the human personification of frost, also known as Morozko.
People believed that the latter could send cold, icy winds and blizzards. In addition, according to some legends, he took naughty children into the forest and gave them to hungry wolves.