You’ll probably read a lot of articles about every kid’s favorite man in red, Santa Claus, this week. But how many of them will mention Odin, God of the Norse and bones that secrete holy juice? Just one, and you’re reading it now. Here’s all the stuff you should know about Jolly Old St. Nick.
1. My Big Fat Greek Santa
…Actually wasn’t all that fat at all. In fact, if this medieval painting is to be believed, ol’ St. Nick is a little on the manorexic side. Some of us would kill for those cheekbones. The real Saint Nicholas, the one who started the whole shebang, was born around 270 AD in what is now Turkey, but was then part of Greece. He loved God bunches, so he worked his way up to bishop, as people who love God bunches are apt to do. What made Nicholas especially beloved, however, was his dedication to the poor. In one story, he snuck into a poor man’s house to slip him some gold – enough gold that his daughters would have a decent dowry. And not have to become prostitutes. It’s no wonder they made him a saint!
2. And the Real St. Nick’s Bones Secrete Holy Juice
Otherwise known as myrrh, which is faithfully collected from his sarcophagus every year on December 6th, and which is also apparently available for purchase at the shop next to his basilica for those parents who want to break the Santa news in the most horrific way possible.
3. Santa Claus is also ODIN, GOD OF THE NORSE
It took FOREVER for pagan Sweden to get on the Jesus boat. And before trudging their Nordic boots on board, they spent years worshipping this guy named Odin who, it turns out, had some pretty familiar qualities. A whole thousand years after the real St. Nick had come and gone, Scandinavians were still talking about this bearded, white haired guy who loved to fly his eight legged horse on hunting parties in the sky at Yule time. And L-to the O-V-E-D giving good little children presents in their boots at night. So when the North Europeans finally got the Holy Spirit in them and started celebrating Christmas, they kept some of the pagan traditions and pegged them onto Saint Nicholas’ Day. They called that day Sinterklaas.
Which is nowhere near as badass as “Odin Day” but whatever.
4. Martin Luther Was No Fan of St. Nick
So he invented Das Christkind, or Christ Child, as the Protestant Christmastime cheer giver. And since the Christ Child is supposed to be baby Jesus, who was Jewish and Middle Eastern, the Christkind is usually represented as a fair skinned, blond baby.
Just like Jesus
Too bad for Luther that Das Christkind eventually turned into Kris Kringle, who eventually merged with England’s Father Christmas and Sweden’s Sinterklaas to become the fully secular jolly Santa Claus that we know and love.
5. It’s Mr. Claus if You’re Nast(y)
So, up until the mid 1800s, everyone’s picture of Santa Claus was this vague amalgamation of a skinny bishop, formerly Baby Jesus man who may or may not have been Odin. Half the time he wasn’t even a grown sized man at all, but an elf. And then political cartoonist Thomas Nast decided he’d had enough with this confusion and single handedly codified Santa’s look: fat, red coat, white beard. Boom. Done.
6. So Coke Didn’t Invent Santa?
Not even a little bit. In 1931, Coca-Cola hired artist Haddon Sundblom to depict Santa sipping Coke in their Christmas advertisements. It was Thomas Nast’s Santa that Sundblom used for inspiration; he just made him jollier. So, no, sadly, Coke didn’t invent Santa as we know him.
7. BUT That Doesn’t Mean We’re Done Exploiting Santa For Money
In 1890, a dry goods store owner got into his head that dressing up as Santa Claus at Christmas time was totally not bonkers. Except that it was, because he was the first one to do it. Like, he couldn’t just go to a store and buy a costume or anything. He had to have one specially made and everything. He had to buy red fabric and white fur and take it to a seamstress and have this conversation:
“Please make this into a Santa suit.”
“For the children.”
“But the children are all working at the factory.”
And so on. So when James Edgar dressed up as Santa Claus and walked around his Brockton, Massachusetts store, children freaked the crap out. Kids from as far away as Boston dragged their parents back again and again to see the real Santa, and a horrifying Christmas tradition was born.
And speaking of horrifying Christmas traditions…
8. British Santas Require Minders
At least Rotary Club Santas do. In 2002, the Rotary Club issued very specific guidelines for their Santas. Under the new rules, no child meets Santa without an adult “minder” present, even if the kid’s parents are standing right there watching. And if there wasn’t a minder, the Santa would go off duty until one arrived. And you can forget sitting on Santa’s lap. The rules limited physical contact between Claus and children to a firm handshake.
Pictured: baby’s first Santa visit.
9. You Can Enlist the United States Government in Lying to Your Children
It’s really easy. Just go here and the North American Aerospace Defense Command will air quote track an air quote Santa all night on Christmas Eve. Someday we’ll probably weep over the hubris that committed government resources to fake tracking the deliverer of toys to the kids who were privileged enough to have parents who could afford said toys.
10. But it’s Mrs. Claus Who’s Really the Fraud
Unlike Santa, who has a rich tapestry of pagan and Christian traditions woven into his mashed up identity, Mrs. Claus was straight invented by a poet as late as 1889. 1889! There’s no “Mrs. Father Christmas” or “Mrs. Saint Nicholas.” There is, however, a “Mrs. Odin,” awesomely named Frigg.
As you can see, Frigg is nobody’s cookie baking grandma. Does that make Mrs. Claus an imposter? WE SAY YES.