Dec. 16, 2013, Blue Bell, Pa.—Ever wonder why Santa Claus slides down the chimney when there are easier ways to enter a home? Or, why today’s Santa is a jolly, chubby old elf, when the historical Saint Nicholas was a thin man with a trim beard?
The answers to these and other questions about the multicultural origins of Santa Claus were recently explored by Montgomery County Community College’s Associate Professor of English Marc Schuster and discussed with students and other listeners during a lunch-time presentation.
Schuster, author of four books, admits that he has been curious about Santa Claus since he was a child when his grandfather told him that the man in the red suit was an Americanized version of Saint Nicholas. This answer only triggered more questions for Schuster, and using his curiosity—a trait he encourages his students to employ—and the Internet, he recently found some answers that led to more questions.
“I always tell my students that some of the best writing comes from trying to find answers to nagging questions,” Schuster says. “I love anything that forces us to question our assumptions and look at the world from a new angle. There’s so much we never think about, so much we accept at face value, but when we start to pick at the edges of our perceived reality, we can discover a whole new world.”
Through his research he verified, for example, that there was a fourth-century bishop named Nicholas, who was known for his kindness and generosity. Over the centuries, tales of St. Nicholas spread through Europe and mixed with legends from other cultures to create the modern concept of Santa Claus.
Further research revealed that the reason for Santa’s chimney entrance is based on the Germanic myth of Krampus, a Grinch-like holiday demon who slithered down chimneys to stuff children who misbehaved into burlap sacks.
Schuster’s entertaining presentation also addressed why Santa winks, the connection with the name Chris Kringle and Santa’s association with Coca Cola. To learn more about these interesting Santa facts, visit Schuster’s blog, “Abominations—Marc Schuster’s Random Musings and Ephemera,” at http://marcschuster.wordpress.com.
Photo caption: Dr. Marc Schuster recently discussed the multicultural origins associated with our present-day Santa Claus during a special lunch-time presentation. Photo by Matt Carlin.