A prominent figure always associated with Christmas is Santa Claus. He visits children on his “good” list, sliding down their chimneys on Christmas Eve and leaving presents for them under the tree. It’s a legend learned since early childhood, passed on from the previous generation to the next. As a big part of the holiday culture, Santa Claus and his legacy continues to shape traditions today.
Preparing for St. Nick’s Arrival
Thanks to Santa, people follow certain traditions, like:
- Children doing their best to be “good,” and doing chores the best way they can to please their parents.
- Maintaining the cleanliness of your chimneys. You can clean these tricky passageways by yourself or by hiring chimney sweeps to do the dirty job for you.
- Leaving a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa Claus. In some homes, it’s gingerbread instead of cookies; and children also leave treats for Santa’s reindeer. Reindeer treats range from oats to carrots.
Though the truth of whether the red suit wearing, pot-bellied, bearded old man actually exists remains a heated debate; people are also curious of his other “magical” methods of gift giving. Take, for example, how Santa Claus manages to give gifts to children all over the world on Christmas Eve, time zones and all; and how he manages to fit himself into a slim, soot-covered chimney.
The Origin of Santa Claus’ Chimney Adventures
Santa Claus and his legend is an amalgamation of different cultures. His namesake, for example, St. Nicholas, is a 4th century Christian Saint. He is also the patron saint of children and sailors, widely known for his secret gift-giving tendencies.
One of his more popular deeds is secretly giving the dowry of three daughters from an impoverished family. It was told that he threw gold coins through the family’s window every night to help the girl’s father pay for their dowries. This secret act of gift giving is an attribute carried by the Santa Claus of today.
Chimneys became his mode of transportation because fireplaces played a significant role in folklore. In the 1400s Petrus Mamoris, a French scholar, grew wary of a rumor that witches were able to pass through solid objects and enter homes unbidden. To counter this, he offered a logical explanation of all magical creatures simply passing through a chimney. Since then, this notion stuck with anything related to folklore. Additionally, early folklore saw chimneys and fireplaces as liminal spaces, a place of transition. Because of this, it was easy to associate Santa Claus coming down a chimney.
This notion was further cemented in the 1800s when the most famous Christmas poem ever written, “‘Twas the Night before Christmas” described Santa coming out of a chimney. As the poem amassed a large readership, Santa Claus entering your home through a chimney became accepted.
Santa Claus isn’t the only figure from folklore bearing down the chimney. Scottish and English folklore have the Brownie, who comes down the chimney at night to clean the house. The Italian La Befana also descends through the chimney to fill children’s shoes with gifts or punishments.
Imbued with culture and folklore, the legend of Santa Claus remains a large part of tradition. He continues to influence Christmas practices, one chimney dive at a time.