The Different Origins of Santa Claus

And a look into his evil counterparts.

Sure, most of us know him as a jolly looking fellow with a belly like a bowl full of jelly, but what if I told you that there are much darker depictions and origins of this mystery magic man in red?

Jolly 'Ol Saint Nick. Or is he?
Image by Jo-B from Pixabay

Many believe that Santa Claus was an idea born from a man named Saint Nicholas. The name “Santa Claus” is believed to have evolved from Saint Nicholas’ Dutch name Sinter Klaas (shortened from Sint Nikolaas). Saint Nicholas was allegedly born around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra. It wasn’t until the 1770’s that the yearly celebration to honor the death of Saint Nicholas’ began to take hold on December 6th.

Reputation

There are many legends about Saint Nicholas of Myra. One story tells how he helped three poor sisters. Their father did not have enough money to pay their dowries and thought of selling them into servitude. Three times, Saint Nicholas secretly went to their house at night and put a bag of money inside. The man used the money so that one of his daughters could marry. On the third visit, the man saw Saint Nicholas and thanked him for his kindness. He also reportedly saved three men who were falsely imprisoned and sentenced to death.
Saint Nicholas Biography (biography.com)

To see images of what Saint Nicholas may have looked like, an artist, Luigi Martino, rendered an interpretation of what he believed Saint Nick really looked like by analyzing what researchers allege to be his bones/remains. There is also a forensic reconstruction that was created in Russia in 2004. You can see those images here.

Now, that’s the official story.

Of course, I like to dig around and research other possibilities instead of accepting the first thing that comes up. So with a little digging, we see more stories from a wide range of different beliefs, and not pleasant ones at that.

If you don’t want your Christmas ruined by haunting nightmares, please do not proceed.

Krampus (Santa’s cohort?)

So who is Krampus? What is Krampus?

And why is he celebrated as well?

Santa's BFF?

This creature is portrayed as being half goat, half man. He is often referred to as the devil of Christmas and for some reason, follows behind St. Nicholas’ tradition. But instead of rewarding children with gifts and treats, he either gives them a bundle of birch wood (because that’ll show them) or, he threatens them and tortures them with the birch wood, and/or among other extremely horrendous actions.

Krampus – The Half-Goat, Half-Demon Devil of Christmas

Most renditions of this creature depict him as having one human foot, one cloven hoof, with horns at the top of his head and covered in fur, and a very demonic looking face. He would be known as the antithesis to the usual Christmas Santa Claus.

Some people have already mentioned the anagram of “Santa” being “satan”, but not too many people are aware that the name “Krampus” is derived from the German word “krampen”, which means claw.

One could let their imagination run wild with those theories, but there’s more where that came from.

Jultomten

Two sketches of a Swedish julbock costume from the 18th century
A sketch of a julbock costume (3)

Various customs developed which involved dressing up as a julbock. One example, probably from the 18th century, involved making a julbock‘s mask and fixing it to a rod, which was then tied to a man’s back. When the time came to become more goat-like, the man would lean forward and a friend would throw a blanket over him (see the above sketches). The ‘goat’ would then run around, probably just to scare children!

Julklapp

Another tradition developed of knocking hard on the front door of a house, leaving a straw goat with a joke verse and then running away. The tradition is the origin of the word julklapp (Christmas present), which literally means ‘Yule knock’.

Gradually knocking and running away became less common as the goat’s role shifted towards becoming the giver of Christmas gifts, so in 19th century Christmas presents in Sweden were often distributed by a person dressed up as a julbock, or at least wearing a goat’s face mask.

Tomte and Santa (swedishfood.com)

Huh. Interesting. Another reference to a goat.

There’s also another allusion to birch wood to punish children. Weird that the stories of both Krampus and Santa Claus would involve this form of punishment. This was seen from an American book that chose to depict Santa Claus punishing children with a birch rod, which is strange since that’s one of the punishments that Krampus allegedly used…

In 1821 the image of St. Nicholas changed significantly again when he appear in an American book called the Children’s Friend. Now he arrived from the North on Christmas Eve, rather than on December 6th, in a sleigh with a flying reindeer. But he wasn’t quite like our modern Santa Claus as he carried a birch rod to punish badly-behaved children, although the sleigh did have toys and a shelf of books for rewarding well-behaved children. Along with appearance changes, the saint’s name shifted to Santa Claus—a natural phonetic alteration from the German Sankt Niklaus.

Tomte and Santa (swedishfood.com)

Some additional information on the “tomte spirit” (Christmas gnome) can be found here.

Père Noël and His Evil Counterpart, Le Pere Fouettard

I am not sure why the idea of Father Christmas, Santa Claus, etc., seems to need to come in two parts. One good, one evil. But here we have it again, this time in the French/Belgium culture.

We have the benevolent face of Père Noël (Father Christmas), the one we’re all used to and love.

And then we have another person who, again, seems to be working in part with him, either due to guilt and repentance, or because apparently we just can’t have something good for the sake of it.

Le Pere Fouettard’s (which literally means Father Whipper) history is that he was an evil innkeeper and along with his wife, were involved in horrible cannibalistic atrocities towards children. Père Noël caught him in the act and resurrected the children, then recruited Mr. Father Whipper to apparently terrorize the children into behaving well, literally “cracking the whip” at them to scare them into behaving.

La Befana

The tale of La Befana (Italian Christmas tradition that celebrates the Epiphany) predates that of Saint Nicholas himself. Whereas St. Nick’s birth is said to have been on 270 A.D., the story of the “Christmas Witch” begins with Jesus Christ’s birth and the three Magi during their search for him. Of course, while there is alleged physical proof of St. Nicholas’ remains, supposedly, that of La Befana is still up for debate.

According to the legend, which does differ from story to story, the three wisemen stopped by the witch’s abode and asked for help in searching for the baby Jesus. She directed them to follow the bright star in the sky. Some stories state that they were already in the process of following the Star of Bethlehem, and asked the witch if she would like to come with them to meet the Christ child. She declined, as she needed to continue doing her housework, but said that she would catch up with them later.

Alas, she could not find them, and even took to the sky on her broom to look for them. During her search, it’s said that she brought with her treats and small gifts to give to the good children, and coal, garlic and onions for the naughty children, in honor of the three wisemen’s gift-giving to Jesus. She also used the chimney to enter the homes, or even keyholes, if need be.

Santa Claus?

See also:
Frau Perchta, Terrifying Christmas Witch
for more fun references to scary punishments and goat-like entities.

Kris Kringle

Speaking of Santa Claus and Jesus Christ, one can’t mention “Christmas” without mentioning Jesus Christ, which should be the basis of the whole gift-giving tradition. Of course, due to the hectic, busy nature of Christmas and buying gifts all willy-nilly for everyone on your list, sometimes the whole reason for the Christmas season is lost on many.

What should be a time to reflect and give thanks to the gift that Jesus Christ Himself gave to the world and appreciating those in our life, this holiday is instead rife with extreme consumerism and panic induced sale-shopping to get the best deal not only on Christmas presents, but for gifts to ourselves as well. (At least for some people.)

The name Christkindl was coined by Martin Luther, ironically to try and get away from the honor of Saint Nicholas, but instead actually helped cement the whole gift-giving tradition and increased the “Santa Claus” popularity. Christkindl, also Kris Kringle, is translated to mean “Christ kind” or “Christ child” and is normally depicted as an angelic-like and/or child-like figure with blonde hair and wings, or  even as Jesus Christ.

Christkind: How Does this Christmas Gift-Bringer Differ from Santa Claus?

This account seems to simply be based on Martin Luther’s desire to get away from what he thought was the blasphemous tradition of worshiping and honoring a saint. Still, although this account seems to be from Martin Luther’s rendition of this holiday tradition, it is still celebrated in certain households.

And although Martin Luther strayed from the Saint Nicholas theme, it seems as if the similarity between Saint Nick’s partnership with a darker being can still be seen in a different form. There are depictions of this “Christ kind” seeming to work alongside Hans Von Trapp, another terrible figure known for his barbaric nature in harming and killing children. Again, the relationship between the “good force” and the “evil force” is seen working in conjunction with each other.

Why is Santa Claus sometimes associated with a “darker” personage in folklore traditions, that works in cahoots with him? Where did this development come from? Is the historic roots really based on reality? Did St. Nick really recruit a wicked man/being to work alongside him in order to frighten children into behaving?

And why are some of the depictions an evil, goat-like being?
Doesn’t sound very jolly-like. All of these revelations give new meaning to the lyrics “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”:

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out Who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

O! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

O! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

There are many more interesting tales that relate to the history and origin of “Santa Claus” from many other different cultures around the world. Usually they will have something similar in common, whether it’s bringing gifts to good little children who behave, or punishing those naughty, misbehaving children, to a “good” Santa Claus and his partner in crime who dishes out the punishment (or whether they’re both one in the same..), to a certain fondness for porridge or other foods and drink to be used as a means to appease these magical visitors.

Could these stories simply be a way for parents to control unruly children? Is there any truth behind these legends? Why are there so many different accounts: from a jolly, sweet old man, to a demonic-like entity as his collaborator, to a kindly good witch and beyond; while at the same time all of these stories having some sort of interesting correlations?

 

And don’t even get me started on the Christmas elves

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Fact checking is extremely important. I want to reiterate not to take everything at face value; no matter what you read, where you read it from, or who you hear it from. And to be clear, do not rely on “fact checking” websites to give you accurate information either. These are just as likely, (if not even more likely…), to feed false information and false debunking accounts to manipulate the reader. Please take everything into consideration before adhering to a certain narrative – and always keep your mind open to other possibilities.

Fair use disclaimer: Some of the links from this article are provided from different sources/sites to give the reader extra information and cite the sources, but does not necessarily mean that I endorse the contents of the site itself. Additionally, I have tried to provide links to the contents that I used from other sites as an educational and/or entertainment means only; if you feel that any information deserves further citation or request to be clarified, please let me know through the contact page.

Featured image by VerenaObermaier from Pixabay

Matthew 2: The Magi Visit the Messiah

Earnest Examination

In this series, I have highlighted the texts of verses that I either don’t understand or have a comment or question about in yellow. The comments I’ve left beneath it will be of a smaller font and using brown text.

I’ve realized that I have never read the Bible front to back, and so would like to remedy that. On some of my posts, I quote from the Bible, which I feel is a little insincere if I’m not going to study the whole Bible. So this is my chance to get closer to the Word and really understand the book that I occasionally quote from.

I would love it if you’d join me in this journey and if you have any insights and/or knowledge of these chapters/verses etc., please feel free to share with me and the other readers. Any chance to get a clearer understanding of the Bible and Jesus Christ would be welcomed with open arms.

All verses used are from biblestudytools.com (NIV) Matthew 2

The Magi Visit the Messiah

1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem
2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

From my understanding, these Magi are the Three Wise Men that are sometimes depicted in the nativity scenes that artists and figures imagine. But from realizing that Jesus was born while the three Magi were still traveling to get to his birthplace, the nativity scene is historically flawed, yet still filled with important imagery about Jesus’ birth.
And I wonder how the Magi was so sure that it was His star… What made this star stand out? (Be right back. Doing some research…)
Okay, I found this site that delves into it quite well, it seems: Jesus’ Birth – The Star of Bethlehem
The author of the article believes this “star sign” to be Jupiter. And since the Magi are trained in astrological knowledge, they would see the significance of this motion in space. I will have to delve further into these accounts, because I find it fascinating and would like to learn more about it myself, but it is a nice stepping stone in trying to understand why the Magi were directed to this place specifically by following this unusual star pattern. It seems incredibly important that one could actually watch for the rise of the King/Messiah. And the article I listed mentions that those who are trained to watch the stars and notice the planetary/heavenly significances will of course notice this, while others unfamiliar with these studies wouldn’t even know to look for them. And it’s amazing that these Magi were able to detect this motion without all of the technology that we have today.

3 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.
I understand why King Herod would be disturbed, from knowing a little bit about King Herod’s history prior to this “Bible study”, as it were, because he felt threatened that this new arrival would fulfill the prophecy of a new King/Messiah, and obviously Herod would not want someone to overthrow him. But I am not sure why all of Jerusalem would be disturbed as well. Are they afraid of this new King or Messiah as well? Are they intimidated by the new King’s arrival because they feared His judgement? Or were they afraid of Herod’s reaction to this news? What were Jerusalem’s worries?
4 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.
5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6 “ ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

As I did in Matthew 1, I had to look up what prophet they were referring to. It appears to be from Micah 5:2.
7 Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.
8 He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

Even without knowing Herod’s background, it’s quite obvious that Herod’s intentions is not to worship this child. It’s already revealed that he is disturbed about his presence, so the pretense that he simply wants the child found in order to worship him should not be lost on us.
9 After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
I still find it fascinating that these wise men knew exactly where the child was simply by following a star. And to see it stopping right over the house seems almost magical (miraculous?). When I initially read about this, I kept thinking, perhaps ONLY the magi could see this “star”, as perhaps a divine vision that no one else could see. Not that it was an actual star in space. Could they have perhaps seen a bright aura or something similar that led the Magi there? Were they the only ones on the whole planet who could see this star or did others see it too? Jesus is often depicted with a bright halo surrounding his head… could this light be what led the Magi there? This is purely speculation, of course, and if there’s other documentation that other people than the Magi saw this “Star of Bethlehem”, then I would love to see it. I’ve tried researching this but there is not much about the Star of Bethlehem in the Bible other than a very small handful. Another theory that it could be might be an angel, set forth to direct them to Jesus’ birthplace. After all, angels are known as beings of light, right? Could this be what the Magis were seeing? In other certain biblical verses also, stars are represented as being angels.
10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.
11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

So after the Magi meet the child, what happens to the “star”? Does it remain over the house, or does it disappear? It seems we don’t know what happens to this significant sign next. The Bible doesn’t seem to expand on it further. It is just a brief, important part of history that led the Magi to Jesus’ home, and then we don’t hear about it again. Unless I haven’t gotten to that part yet, but when trying to look up more information on the Star of Bethlehem, it is always referred back to this specific scene.
12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

The Escape to Egypt

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream.
Again I find the references to dreams extremely interesting. It seems as if back then they held dreams in high regard while nowadays, although some do try dream interpretations and the study of dreams, for the most part, a lot of people simply forget their dreams and/or treat them as insignificant nightly amusements or nonsensical mind dumps to clear their thoughts. Of course, if one is to deeply go into this subject, they’d realize that dreams, REM, o.b.e.s, astral projection, etc. has been (and still is) independently studied by scientists, researchers and in conjunction with the government. Even the C.I.A. has been known to address this subject. So we can gather that the study of dreams can be of incredible importance. And especially back in biblical times they listened to dreams and followed some of their visions.
“Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt,

This verse hits me hard because I cannot comprehend how someone can be so evil and misguided to want to kill an innocent child. Even with knowing that Herod considers this child a danger to his empire, the lack of human decency and compassion physically hurts my heart to read about.
15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
This was from the prophet Hosea 11:1.
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
I also want to mention, not only was this “king’s” order incredibly heartbreaking, but what about the soldiers actually carrying this order out? Why would a whole group of soldiers lack such a moral compass as to follow one man’s rule and order? Especially one as egregious as this one? Were they blinded by a payoff? Dutiful obligation? What compels someone to be as heartless and brutal to listen to a greedy, selfish, uncaring King? Were these soldiers’ hearts hardened as well?
I also want to reiterate that I am using the NIV version but in different versions, such as the King James Bible, the verse becomes, “Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem.” This change seems to indicate that it was King Herod alone who slew these children himself, instead of “giving orders” to others to do it. So which really happened? Which version holds more water?
And that brings me to the other issue I have where, since God is omniscient, He already knows what will happen, and He Himself is known for hardening people’s hearts. Is this “sovereign plan” just simply outside the scope of human understanding? Am I too grounded with worldly beliefs that a physical life is an important aspect of a soul’s being? Are these innocent children being slaughtered a terrible illusion impressed upon everyone when in reality, their souls and physical being are already protected by angels to spare them from the horrors of what is happening to their bodies? It’s just hard for me to comprehend why a loving God would subject innocent infants and babies to such inhumane death. I realize it is the actions of wicked and evil men, so God is just allowing them to carry out their free will, but I am just trying to rationalize it in as sympathetic way that I can. It’s incredibly hard, because since having a few divine intervention of sorts, the empathy I feel when addressing these situations literally breaks my heart and brings me to tears.
I also want to address the Magi themselves. Since Herod was so furious with them, was there any form of retribution for their deception to King Herod? Or did Herod strictly go after the children? So far I have not seen any evidence to show that King Herod also wanted the Magi dead for tricking him.

17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

This verse also tears into me, because I can’t even imagine the devastation of losing one’s child in such a manner would be.
I also attempted to research about Rachel and Jacob’s relationship, and it is way too complicated to get into here, but eventually I will get to that part when I complete the New Testament… which will obviously take awhile. Suffice it to say, the drama that surrounds this family alone can cover a whole post in itself…

The Return to Nazareth

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt
20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

I must be really curious about this history because I’d like to know how soon after Herod died did the angel appear to Joseph to give him this news. Right after? Days? Months? Years? It mentions that “those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” Which implies it was more than one person. Herod and his soldiers? Or just Herod? And how long did his order to kill all the infants last? How long did it take the soldiers to complete this order? How old was Jesus during this time? Did anyone else flee the village after realizing the carnage that was brought upon the boy children? So many questions with this event in time.
21 So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee,
I wanted to know a little bit about Archelaus’ history because, well, why was Joseph afraid of Archelaus? So I found this site that digs into his history, but it is not mentioned in the Bible as far as I know. It is allegedly from an ancient historian named Josephus which a lot of scholars study in connection with the Bible.
And while the dream told Joseph to take the child to Israel, there are still places that he should steer clear of and so the angel apparently helps him direct his destination to a safe place within Israel.

23 and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

There is actually still more about this chapter that I’d like to delve into deeper, including checking out some of Josephus’ work in conjunction with the Bible, so there might be instances where I edit in an addition here and there to expand upon other things that I’ve found.

And again, if you have further revelations/knowledge about this chapter, please feel free to share. I enjoy bouncing off theories and theology off of each other. Thank you for reading and I look forward to hearing from you!

Fact checking is extremely important. I want to reiterate not to take everything at face value; no matter what you read, where you read it from, or who you hear it from. And to be clear, do not rely on “fact checking” websites to give you accurate information either. These are just as likely, (if not even more likely…), to feed false information and false debunking accounts to manipulate the reader. Please take everything into consideration before adhering to a certain narrative – and always keep your mind open to other possibilities.

Fair use disclaimer: Some of the links from this article are provided from different sources/sites to give the reader extra information and cite the sources, but does not necessarily mean that I endorse the contents of the site itself. Additionally, I have tried to provide links to the contents that I used from other sites as an educational and/or entertainment means only; if you feel that any information deserves further citation or request to be clarified, please let me know through the contact page.