First and foremost, Christmas is the annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is generally celebrated on Dec. 25 by billions of people around the world, and its observances are a major component of many religious factions. Yearly ceremonies include church services, symbolic decorating, family and social gatherings, and-of course-gift giving.
Spirit of the season in mind, it has long been said that one man takes it upon himself year after year to deliver gifts worldwide on Christmas Eve, so that families may wake up to a humble display of generosity on Christmas morning.
Who is this man of mystery? He is Santa Claus! AKA: Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, and Saint Nicholas. . . the list of names goes on and on. How does he manage such impossible feats year after year? Now, that's a different story.
Illustrations by Jeremy Gordon
If Claus were to travel by airplane, he would have racked up quite a surplus of frequent-flyer miles by now. But fortunately for him, and the world at large, he and his sleigh are carried through the sky by a herd of magical reindeer whose names are as iconic as his: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen. And who could forget the most famous reindeer of all? Rudolph! He leads the bunch, using his red nose to safely guide the group, even through the foggiest of Christmas Eves.
Claus's unique methods of time management still remain a mystery. Somehow, within one night, he and his reindeer are able to cross oceans and visit every household that welcomes his gifts. Luckily, many tasty treats, such as cookies and candies, are left out for him to dine on, allowing him to refuel on most stops. (Just keep in mind that his reindeer are partial to carrots and other healthy veggies.)
Although Claus's favorite method of entry is a wide chimney, those without wood-burning hearths should fret not. With the right amount of Christmas magic and belief, he can make his way into any home, and he'll leave behind your share of gifts before you ever know he's there-though some kids have reported seeing him as he lays presents under their trees. By the way, a tree, like a chimney, is not a must. . . but it is preferred.
While originally thought to make all of his toys by hand in a small workshop, the world eventually discovered that Claus has a dedicated workforce of elves assisting in the manufacturing department. That is not to say that Claus is not a skilled craftsman. When it comes to traditional wooden items, such as trains and nutcrackers, he is a pro. Nowadays, however, he is known to work with companies, obtaining many items fresh off the factory floor. As great as gift-giving is, he supports the workers and their livelihoods.
When it comes to whom receives what gifts, he makes his list and checks it twice. Though generally he manages to find a redeeming quality in everyone, he has been known to deliver a lump of coal to those who have been particularly naughty.
Although Claus is generous, his night of giving is one which earns him rest throughout much of the following year. He spends that time at the North Pole with his wife, Mrs. Claus.
Fortunately, as he takes a much deserved break, his good deeds resonate throughout the year. Churches and other organizations never cease to embody the giving spirit emphasized at Christmastime. Claus's iconic image as a portly, joyous, white-bearded man in red also continues each holiday season. The Salvation Army reinforces his positive message by dressing as him for fundraising drives to aid needy families at Christmas Time-because some families have more need than others.
Whatever your age, and whatever your beliefs, keep in mind that Claus can always use your help to accomplish his goals. He is a man of incredible talents, but he is more than that. He is the embodiment of pure generosity. That cozy, heartwarming sentiment is a lot like him: it spans oceans, asks for nothing in return, and makes the impossible possible year after year.
A not so merry Krampus!
While Santa Claus is associated with bestowing gifts, few people these days are aware of the legend of another Christmastime being, a fearsome beast whose attention you don't want during the Yule season. Its name is Krampus, and its purpose is to punish children who have misbehaved throughout the year. If those children are particularly naughty, Krampus is said to capture them in a sack and carry them away to its lair for further punishing.
Although not as well known as Santa and obviously not as popular, this wily demon's history dates back to pre-Christian Germanic traditions. The word Krampus is actually derived from the German word for claw. That is not to say other interpretations of his origins do not exist. The monster is sometimes viewed as the son of Hel, a prominent figure from Norse mythology. However, having goat-like ears, legs and feet, the beast is often confused with the satyrs and fauns of Greek mythology.
Despite having faced political and religious attempts to remove the figure from celebrations, Krampus has proven strong by defying opposition. By the 17th century, the frightening beast was even welcomed into Christian winter celebrations, paired with St. Nicholas, in the Alpine countries.
Terrifying though it is, Krampus has become the center of many other celebrations. Some small, isolated villages have even forgone representations of St. Nicholas for antlered "wild man" figures thought to be companions of Krampus.
During the first week of December, young men in Austria, southern Bavaria, South Tyrol, northern Friuli, Hungary, Sloveniea, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Croatia dress up as the monster and roam the streets, where they frighten young children by thrashing rusty chains. The chains are meant to symbolize the binding of evil, though mostly they are used for dramatic effect.
As well as chains, Krampus is often depicted carrying bundles of birch branches, which he uses to swat naughty children. In Styria, the branches are presented to families, painted gold, and put on display year round in the household, to discourage bad behavior.
Toned down as of late, the monster is the focus of Krampuskarten, a brand of greeting cards which have been exchanged since the 1800s.
From its regional beginnings, the creature's influence has spread far and wide. If you didn't know about it before, now you do, so hopefully you'll behave. . . because compared to a visit from Krampus, a lump of coal sounds kind of nice.