Santa Claus, Avatars and Antagonists
A combination of beloved saint, red-coated crusader and commercial idol, today’s Santa Claus is the ultimate proof of religious syncretism. His legend has deep pagan origins, but his boon-giving attributes and present-day mythology are more recent. Yes, you’ve guessed it. Today we talk about Santa Claus, Avatars and Antagonists.
Santa Claus as we know him today – the chubby old man with his red coat and smiling face – is actually, surprisingly, a 1931 image created by the Swedish publicity expert Haddon Sundblom, who employed his friend to portray a Coca-Cola-drinking Santa wearing red and white, the colors of the company.
But before Santa was given a face, he already had a legend and countless names. At first Santa Claus was the direct image of the real-life Saint Nicolas, the 4th century Greek Bishop of Myra. He was recognized for his generosity and as his cult spread throughout Europe, it mixed with the pagan gift-giving gods. The national avatars of Santa Claus bear witness to this religious cohabitation between Christianity and paganism.
One of the earlier versions of Santa Claus is the Dutch Sinterklaas. Derived from the figure of Saint Nicholas, he presents the figure of a benign old man who wears a red cape and is followed by his aid, Black Peter.
In France, Pere Noel is another old representation, and he comes with an antagonist as well! Pere Noel also comes to give presents on Christmas Eve and is followed by the evil figure of Pere Fouettard, who comes to punish the kids who misbehaved.
A surprising variation of the French Santa is the Louisiana Cajun Papa Noel, who comes to visit in a pirogue pulled by 8 alligators!
With all its variations and legends, Santa Claus brings happiness on the faces of children all around the world. And for one night, we can all afford to pretend to be kids again!