Santa Claus Worldwide

A History of St. Nicholas and Other Holiday Gift-Bringers

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About the Book

This is a comprehensive history of the world’s midwinter gift-givers, showcasing the extreme diversity in their depictions as well as the many traits and functions these characters share. It tracks the evolution of these figures from the tribal priests who presided over winter solstice celebrations thousands of years before the birth of Christ, to Christian notables like St. Martin and St. Nicholas, to a variety of secular figures who emerged throughout Europe following the Protestant Reformation. Finally, it explains how the popularity of a poem about a “miniature sleigh” and “eight tiny reindeer” helped consolidate the diverse European gift-givers into an enduring tradition in which American children awake early on Christmas morning to see what Santa brought.
Although the names, appearance, attire and gift-giving practices of the world’s winter solstice gift-givers differ greatly, they are all recognizable as Santa, the personification of the Christmas and Midwinter festivals. Despite efforts to eliminate him by groups as diverse as the Puritans of seventeenth century New England, the Communist Party of the twentieth century Soviet Union and the government of Nazi Germany, Santa has survived and prospered, becoming one of the best known and most beloved figures in the world.

About the Author(s)

Retired attorney Tom A. Jerman lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

Bibliographic Details

Tom A. Jerman

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 248
Bibliographic Info: 92 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2020
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8093-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3894-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface 1
1. The Remarkable Diversity, and Simultaneous Commonality, of the World’s Midwinter ­Gift-Givers 5
2. Setting the Record Straight on the ­Nicholas-to-Irving-to-Moore-to-Nast History of Santa Claus 17
3. The Celebration of Christmas Before Christ 25
4. The Establishment of the Nativity of Jesus as a Christian Holiday 37
5. The Midwinter Celebrations of Yule in Northern Europe 41
6. The Emergence of St. Nicholas as a Seasonal ­Gift-Giver 46
7. The Identity and Emergence of the Evil Helpers of St. Nicholas 54
8. The Protestant Reformation and the Suppression of St. Nicholas 64
9. Knecht Ruprecht: Pagan God, Evil Helper or Faux Nicholas? 71
10. Gift-Givers in Germany and Central Europe: St. Nicholas, the Christ Child, Der Weihnachtsmann and Knecht Ruprecht 81
11. ­Gift-Givers in the British Isles: Father Christmas Still Reigns 94
12. Gift-Givers in the Benelux Nations: Sinterklaas and Black Peter 105
13. ­Gift-Givers in Scandinavia: The Yule Goats, Gnomes and Elves 110
14. Gift-Givers in the Southern Half of Europe: The Christ Child, Le Befana and the Three Kings 113
15. ­Gift-Givers in Russia and Eastern Europe: Ded Moroz and Snegurochka 119
16. How the Celebration of Christmas Came to the English Colonies in America (or Not) 127
17. The Purported Role of Washington Irving in the Introduction of St. Nicholas to America 134
18. How the Poem Now Known as “The Night Before Christmas” Started the Santa Ball Rolling 150
19. Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due: William B. Gilley and Arthur J. Stansbury and The Children’s Friend 159
20. From Moore to Nast: The Depictions of Santa from the 1820s through the 1890s 164
21. The Ups and Downs of Santa in the Twentieth Century 195
Epilogue: The Santas of Christmas Future 206
Chapter Notes 209
Bibliography 231
Index 237