Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!
The best known (at least in modern times) mascot of Christmas, developed in the United States as an amalgam of the story of St. Nicholas of Myra and various other seasonal folk heroes, with many aspects provided by the classic poem A Visit From St. Nicholas
(popularly known by its first line, 'Twas The Night Before Christmas
The Santa Claus myth is based largely on the Dutch holiday of Sinterklaas
(a hastily pronounced "St. Nicholas", who comes down the chimney on the 5th/6th of December) and the imagery of the Saint in question carried over to his North Pole incarnation. In the original stories, Sinterklaas was accompanied by black slaves; these have become demons (The Krampus
) in German-speaking culture, and friendly elves
in the USA. In the Netherlands, the black companians are nowadays portrayed as St. Nicholas' friends and employees. Note that in several countries in Europe, Sinterklaas and Santa Claus are now considered two entirely different characters, each with their own elaborate holiday. It should also be noted that his transition from badass Greek saint to "jolly old elf" was influenced by another winter gift-giver: Odin. Yes, for some reason, in pre-Christian Europe, the king of the gods would sneak into people's houses on the Winter Solstice and leave gifts for the children, who were expected to leave carrots or oats for Odin's eight-legged horse Sleipnir. During the Christianizing of Europe, this was merged with the story of St. Nicholas giving a father some gold so he wouldn't sell his daughters into prostitution. And that's where Santa comes from.
Santa Claus is universally envisioned as a festively overweight
old man with a long white or silver beard
, who wears a red suit with white trim
and a matching cap
(originally a red bishop's robe and camauro
), black boots and a vast black belt worn across his belly. He lives at the North Pole (or in Lapland, or in Spain, or somewhere else depending on your culture — the original St. Nick was Greek, from a city in what is now Turkey) and oversees a large workshop staffed by elves (diminutive commercial-friendly elves, not tall proud Tolkien-type elves —D&D players
will see more of a resemblance to gnomes) who are often far older than they look
. These elves in their workshop produce toys year-round, and every Christmas Eve they load them into an improbably roomy sack
which Santa carries as he sets out to deliver them to all the good boys and girls of the world. His vehicle is a flying sleigh pulled by eight reindeer named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen (with an option on a ninth, in the form of Rudolph
, on nights with poor visibility). He enters each house by the chimney, fills the residents' stockings (left hanging on the mantle for his attention) with the gifts and toys he brought, and then leaves the same way he came in. It is considered polite for the family to set out a treat of milk and cookies, for his snack,
and perhaps a tidbit for the reindeer too. It is traditional in certain versions of the legend that Santa can tell when children are sleeping and when they are awake and will only deliver presents to children who go to bed when they're told to on Christmas Eve and won't come if they try to stay awake to see him. This was almost certainly something started by parents in more recent times, as it doesn't seem to appear in earlier versions of the story. It was likely popularized by the line "He knows when you are sleeping; he knows when you're awake" from the song "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." Note that this often simply does not
apply in fiction and somehow even kids that are shown being told this still somehow end up getting to meet Santa Claus.
Officially, Santa delivers presents only to the children who have been good. Naughty children get the Boring but Practical
gift of coal, which they can burn in the furnace for warmth over the winter; not as raw a deal as it might seem to those of us who no longer burn coal ourselvesnote
. In even older traditions, he carried a bag of switches for whipping the naughty children. In the Netherlands and Belgium, Sinterklaas
is famously accompanied in his work by a servant named Zwarte Piet (Black Pete)
, which tends to cause headaches with foreigners unfamiliar with the tradition and quite aware of the Unfortunate Implications
he represents. (Note that in the Dutch tradition, there is no racist connotation whatsoever
to dressing up as a jolly blackface servant and threatening to beat people up. Seriously.)note
Zwarte Piet himself is a softening of an even earlier tradition in which Saint Nicholas used the services of an enslaved devil. Austria and southern Germany have The Krampus
instead. Many other cultures that still look to Santa Claus as an actual saint still include this devil or imagine Santa Claus as doing battle with the devil on Christmas Eve, leading to even more
strange reactions from foreigners who wonder what Satan himself is doing in, say, a children's Christmas film.
The traditional explanation for Santa's ability to achieve his annual deliveries
is that he is a magical being
. However, modern stories dealing with Santa give him access to a combination of magic and supertechnology
; some versions even do away with the magic altogether (for example, the Christmas ep
of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command
has his supertech being used by the villains to commit tons of felonies). In addition, modern depictions of Santa's home have his workshop being a fully mechanized factory run by the elves. A common variation is to have Santa portrayed as not a single magical being, but as a god-like office held by a mortal
, such as Ernest Saves Christmas
, where Santa is a normal person who spends a large chunk of his (possibly magically lengthened) lifespan as Santa Claus, then passes the title off to someone else. Surprisingly, despite all that focus on Santa's delivery process, the one aspect of the legend that has rarely, if ever, been called into question is how Santa could accomplish such feats and still have huge numbers of people (often a numerical majority, even in fiction) who refuse to believe that he exists.
Also, for humorous effect he is often portrayed as a cold-hearted tyrant
, running his workshop with an iron fist while the elves are an exploited and resentful workforce. One example of such skewering came at the hands of Futurama
, which introduced a futuristic robot-Santa who judged the entire world as naughty except Zoidberg
and hunted down the worst offenders every Christmas. Running a close second is the revelation by Anya in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
that not only did Santa Claus exist, he was in fact a bloodthirsty demon — perhaps inspired by the devil present in older stories of him.
Since straight portrayals of Santa Claus in fiction have become classics, and re-aired every year, most recent works involving Santa Claus are parodies, deconstructions, or other twists on the legend. Even in strict children's fare, there is always some kind of wry twist on the material: in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
, for example, Father Christmas muses that he hasn't been to Narnia for many, many years, and proceeds to hand out lethal weaponry such as bows, arrows, and swords to three of the prepubescent protagonists. A major exception is the film The Polar Express
(although, in all fairness, he's portrayed as less jolly than Santa usually is).
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, there has also been a small movement to explain how Santa came to be, and continues to be. The most prominent backstory for the modern Santa (meaning, not derived from various folklore), comes from L. Frank Baum
's (of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
fame) novel, The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
. This story gives Santa a bit of The Lord of the Rings
treatment, as there's plenty of strife and battles between the good fairies that raised Santa, and their enemies, a group of rock-monsters. This story has been made into at least two animated films, and continues to be one of the most popular backstories for Santa over 100 years after its first publication. Speaking of Tolkien, he too made his own spin on Santa Claus in The Father Christmas Letters
. The Dresden Files
has Harry saying that Santa is a fairy.note
Harry's not willing to summon him either. He'll mess with The Fair Folk
, but Santa, no way.
The name "Santa Claus" comes from a Dutch variation of the name "St. Nicholas", "Sinterklaas". It is not
, despite what fundamentalist Moral Guardians
like to claim, an anagram of Satan
. Well, it is, but that's decidedly unintentional. And his last name is spelled C-L-A-U-S, not
C-L-A-U-S-E; the latter is part of a sentence or part of a legal contract. This was the basis for a famous Marx Brothers joke. ("There ain't no sanity clause!") The title of the movie The Santa Clause
was an intentional pun on this.
An additional note: in the UK and Australia, Santa Claus is often called "Father Christmas" (such as in the C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien examples above). Although Santa Claus and Father Christmas have picked up many attributes from each other, and are now considered the same person, they were originally distinct characters. Father Christmas was an incarnation of Christmas, particularly of the feasting and drinking, and wore a robe rather than the suit that Santa Claus wears. He was considered to be as old as the first Christmas (unlike St. Nicholas who lived in the fourth century)note
. Examples of Father Christmas from before his merger with Santa Claus can be found in the Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol
by Dickens, and in the traditional plays of English Mummers
Santa Claus as a character is widespread even in countries that aren't Christian
, like Japan and China. In Japan, he's called not surprisingly "Santa Kurasu" and in China he's called "Old Man of Christmas".
If someone needs to be reassured that Santa really does exist
, the traditional answer begins "Yes Virginia
"...On the other hand, Santa himself better watch out if he finds himself at a Philadelphia Eagles game
, lest he get booed and has to dodge snowballs.note
Common plots in which Santa appears include Surprise Santa Encounter
, Santa's Existence Clause
, Subbing for Santa
, and Saving Christmas
. Compare Mrs. Claus
, Christmas Special
, Mall Santa
, Bad Santa
, Bad Ass Santa
, Santa Clausmas
, Easter Bunny
, and The Krampus
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Anime and Manga
- In Axis Powers Hetalia, Finland is Santa, following some European Christmas traditions that say that Santa Claus is Finnish.
- In the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf story "Empath And The Red-Nosed Reindeer", the Santa analog Mr. Nicholas gets the idea of wearing a red suit from Papa Smurf's appearance when he first met him years ago as a child.
Films - Animation
- The polarizing film The Polar Express (based on a book) was all about a boy who traveled on a magical train to the North Pole to meet "the big guy," Santa Claus. It was said that he was at that critical age, where he had pretty much stopped believing in Santa and if something wasn't done, there would be no going back. He went on a journey of discovery where he also met several other characters that were struggling with their own issues, including the lonely boy Billy who had never received gifts on Christmas and the hero girl who would be a leader to others, but needed to have confidence in her own decisions. In the end, the hero boy finally overcame his issues and met Santa, who told him that "Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see."
- As you might well imagine, Santa Claus is a popular character in Christmas Specials; the most well-known are the stop-motion films by Rankin-Bass. Often times Subbing for Santa is invoked with the main characters of the holiday special.
- An automobile version of Santa Claus named Santa Car (a vehicle resembling a Dusenburg) actually appears in storybook based on the film Cars called "Mater Saves Christmas."
- In Caillou's Holiday Movie, the "Where Santa Has a Different Name" song provides details on Christmas traditions around the world, including Denmark, Slovakia and Greece.
- In a song available only on the film's soundtrack album, "Riding in Santa's Sleigh," Caillou performs a duet with Santa in which he and Santa sing about Caillou joining him on his sleigh ride to deliver presents.
Oh, Santa, can't you take me along? That's all I'm wishing in this Christmas song. Oh, Santa, can't you take me, oh, please? What a wonderful way to spend this Christmas Eve!
- In the animated special Toot and Puddle: I'll Be Home for Christmas, Toot is rescued by a sleigh-driving man who is strongly implied to be Santa.
- The Year Without a Santa Claus, title notwithstanding and its sequel film, A Miser Brothers' Christmas, feature Santa Claus as a key character. In the first one, Santa Claus has a cold and plans to skip Christmas, until Mrs. Claus and a couple of his elves go on a journey to help him see that there's still Christmas spirit in the world. In the second film, Santa is injured, so the Miser Brothers are made to take over for him.
- In My Friends Tigger & Pooh: Pooh's Super Sleuth Christmas Movie, Rabbit's biggest Christmas wish is to meet the big guy, but he figures it's impossible, so he puts on his Christmas list what he feels is a more realistic Christmas wish— a subscription to Rutabaga Monthly, which he reads "for the articles of course." In the end, he gets his real wish when the team travels to the North Pole to return a lost baby reindeer and Santa's sack of toys.
- Holly Hobbie And Friends: Christmas Wishes includes a subplot in which Holly's brother Robby Hobbie and his friend Kyle Morris try to convince everyone that Robby is Santa Claus when he takes a job as mall Santa. He has trouble getting it to work, due to his small stature and his use of the family pig, Cheddar, as his reindeer, despite his best attempt at a booming "ho ho ho" voice. One girl tells him that he can't be Santa because he's not fat and doesn't have any reindeer, and he tries to convince her that the pig is really is reindeer and that he's skinny because he's gone on a low-carb diet. "Fine! I won't leave you any cookies! I'll eat them all myself!" Despite this, he manages to get the Deegan twins (the sons of the widow in the film) to tell him their true Christmas wish, which, in a twist, isn't something like wanting their father back or seeing their mother happy (though they would like this), but rather to have an earwig farm.
Films - Live Action
- Santa Claus Conquers the Martians combines the Santa story with campy no-budget Sci-Fi, and is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever.
- In the Mexican film Santa Claus 1959, Santa (and his extraterrestrial army of child laborers) does battle with a demon who is sent by The Devil to persuade the children of earth to do evil.... it Makes Just as Much Sense in Context. Famously riffed by Mystery Science Theater 3000.
- Killers dressing as Santa Claus is a popular use of Subverted Innocence, as seen in movies like Christmas Evil, To All a Goodnight and Silent Night, Deadly Night.
- Santa provides the Deus ex Machina in One Magic Christmas — good thing, too, or the events of the film would have been rather appallingly depressing.
- In The Santa Clause, the protagonist is bewildered to discover himself forced into the job and the appearance of Santa due to a legal technicality.
- In Miracle on 34th Street, it's a major plot point that grown-ups are skeptical whether "Kris Kringle" may or may not be the real Santa.
- Elf has Santa needing to be rescued by the main characters at the climax, due to his sleigh failing from lack of holiday spirit in New York.
- Russian film The Irony of Fate 2 features Grandfather Frost, the Russian equivalent of Santa, who gives presents on New Year's. Kostya borrows a drunken Grandfather Frost's suit to sneak back into Nadya's apartment on New Year's night.
- The famous poem "Twas The Night Before Christmas" (or to give it its proper title, "A Visit From Saint Nicholas") by Clement C. Moore was an important Trope Codifier for Santa, including the names of his reindeer.
- Another Trope Codifier is The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum, featuring Santa making friends with The Fair Folk and fighting against evil goblins.
- As mentioned, above, Santa Claus (as Father Christmas) appears in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to signal that the White Witch's always-winter-never-christmas power is beginning to fade.
- Land of Oz: Santa Claus is a friend of Ozma of Oz, and attends her birthday party in The Road to Oz (as a cross-over with L. Frank Baum's book mentioned above).
- In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost, when Miranda is seeking refuge from demons, she is guided into a mall and finds that the Mall Santa really is Father Christmas. Later, she and Mab visit him to use his pool to look for some children. While there, she takes a gift from an elf — usually a foolish thing, but she knows under his roof, it must be safe.
- Santa makes an appearance in The Dresden Files book Cold Days. He's pretty cool. He is described as bear-like, standing over seven feet tall, with jelly-like belly. He joins The Erl-King to lead The Wild Hunt each Halloween. And possibly an aspect of Odin.
- The Father Christmas Letters were delivered to the children of J. R. R. Tolkien, describing Santa's adventures and misadventures with the elves at the North Pole. Readers of The Lord of the Rings may notice a few Cross Over similarities, especially in Santa's elf secretary Ilbereth.
- Despite her sometimes cynical nature, Junie B. Jones still believes in him and asks him for a Squeez-a-Burp at the end of Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, P.S.: So Does May.
- In the song "The Wonderful Kingdom of Claus" by Bob Rivers and Twisted Radio on their album "I Am Santa Claus," Dorothy and Toto visit the mall to meet Santa Claus, only to be at first turned away by his elves. Dorothy says that she has a gold card and the elf comments "That's a card of a different color!" and lets her in. She and Toto are met by a booming voice declaring himself to be Santa Claus, but it is bhaieventually revealed to be a skinny guy. He explains that Mrs. Claus put him on the SlimFast diet. "I used to have a belly that shakes like a bowl-ful of jelly. Now I just have shakes. One for breakfast, one for lunch, and a sensible skim milk and cookie for dinner. I can't stand it." He reveals that he and the elves no longer make toys at his workshop at the North Pole because they got undercut by the malls, and so he's just a middle-man who delivers toys now. He and his elves then launch into a parody of "If I only had a brain." "We thought we made it all, from Barbie dolls to rubber balls / But Betsy-Wetsy took a fall. / They marked her down! / She's at the mall!" After the song ends, Dorothy laments his fate, but just then a savior shows up, hooking Santa up with a fax machine and pager (yeah, it's pretty dated, though the package does also include a cellular phone with voice messaging) Santa and his operation are saved, and Dorothy and Toto are left to lament how now he'll easily be able to check up on who's naughty and who's nice.
- The headline song from the same album as the above song, "I Am Santa Claus," is a parody of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man."
- Of course, Santa figures prominently in many popular Christmas Songs, including such fare as "Santa Claus is Coming To Town," "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas," "Must Be Santa," "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," and "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus."
- Darkly spoofed by "Weird Al" Yankovic in "The Night Santa Went Crazy," which features Santa having a psychotic break and going on a killing spree.
- Santa gets a Jewish treatment in the Klezmonaut's song "Santa Gey Gesunderheit." The singer praises Santa's work ethic and wonders how he manages to put up with it all without complaining.
- Gets thoroughly discussed one December in Frazz. Frazz even explains how he can afford all the gifts: he licenses his image.
- Santa is one of the five passengers in Williams Electronics' Taxi pinball game. Apparently his reindeer had the day off...
- In Bells Are Ringing, Santa Claus is one of the voices that Ella does over the phone. She uses it to tell a little boy named Jimmy Mallett to eat his spinach.
- In Secret of Mana, when the children of the world stop believing in him, Santa tries to use the Mana Seed of Fire to grow a wonderous Christmas Tree that will make them believe, and help him to spread the true meaning of Christmas™ across the world. This... doesn't quite work. The seed's power warps him into the hateful Frost Gigas, and the heroes have to fight him to break the curse. Yes, you read that paragraph right. That all happens.
- The model for the infamous old man on the lying cover of Phalanx had just come from a Santa shoot.
- There is a downloadable skit for Tales of Graces in which Sophie mentions that she recently learned all about Christmas from Malik, and then proceeds to tell that gang about Santa Claus... who she has been led to believe is a man who carries an axe and wanders through the night on Christmas Eve, chopping down the chimney's of houses. Cue a cut-in of Malik dressed as Santa, beard, sack, and all, holding an axe and having the expression of some sadistic murderer. Note that Malik regularly tells outlandish tales to the naive Sophie and this seems like his regular behavior, so the skit is made even funnier when Malik claims that he heard the story from Richard.
- Santa appears in Kingdom Hearts II as part of the Halloween Town / Christmas Town section from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Maleficent schemes to turn him into "Santa Heartless."
- In the Dragon Ball Z Abridged Christmas special, "Christmas Tree of Might", the Turles Crusher Corps are reimagined as a band of Misfit Minions, and Turles himself wants to destroy Christmas because Santa never visited Planet Vegeta (all they ever got was Freeza Day - the day Freeza blew up their planet and brought the Saiyans to near-extinction). Santa himself comes to Goku in a vision during the climax, giving our hero the motivation to win the day, and he then reveals that he did try to visit Planet Vegeta, but the Saiyans always tried to shoot down his sleigh.
- Rocket Santa, a silly Web Game where Santa wants to give presents to Space Marines on the moon, so he straps on a Jet Pack and climbs into a circus cannon.
- Potsworth And Company: The episode "Santanapped" is Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Jackie Chan Adventures: Daolong Wong once tried to steal Santa's chi.
- Dora the Explorer has Dora's Christmas Carol Adventure in which, after one too many times of swiping on Christmas, Santa Claus puts Swiper (Swiper, No Swiping!) on the Naughty List. He and Dora have to travel forward and backward in time through three time periods to help Swiper reform. In a Bad Future, they discover that after being put on the Naughty List, Swiper became a mean old curmudgeon who swipes no matter what ("Swiper, no swiping!" no longer worked) and who lived in a castle and always littered. Prior to this transformation, Swiper was a somewhat sympathetic character with a fondness for puppies and who had a conscience that could be appealed to. So, nice job breaking it, Santa. Thankfully, Dora was able to guide the way and get Swiper off the naughty list, preventing the Bad Future.
- On Pucca, since Santa only does his his actual job one day a year, he spends the remainder of his time living in the hometown of the other characters on the show and does a variety of odd jobs.
- In one episode of Mike the Knight, Mike tries to deliver the presents for Santa to get off the naughty list, not realizing he was never on the naughty list, it's just that his present was very big and so hadn't been delivered yet. A followup episode had Mike as Santa's good friend and trying to help him out when one of his reindeer got sick.
- In the Phineas and Ferb Christmas special, Santa is revealed as The Chessmaster behind the misadventures in the episode, which he arranged so that everyone could get what they really wanted for Christmas, including giving Phineas a chance to take on the role of Santa, his hero. The boys build him an awesome winter clubhouse as a gift that he takes back to the North Pole.
- Santa has also been seen on the show "making a summer run," and once shared a chimney-vator with Perry the Platypus.
- Strawberry Shortcake and Honey Pie Pony meet him and talk with him up at the North Pole in Strawberry Shortcake: Berry, Merry Christmas.
- In Arthur's Perfect Christmas, Arthur's little sister D.W. is still a firm believer in Santa Claus. When she finds out that she might not be getting the gift she wanted, Tina the Talking Tabby, she concludes that Arthur wrote her letter "all wrong" and decides that if she wants something done right, she has to do it herself. When the Tibble Twins see her mailing the letter, they tease her, but she tells them that it's to the President of the United States, leading one of them to conclude "Oh, so he's the one who delivers all the presents."
- In the Doc McStuffins Christmas Episode "A Very McStuffins Christmas," the elf spends most of the episode avoiding Santa because he's worried about what he'll think of him. Santa, however, likes his work and gives him a promotion. He also reveals that he's been following Doc McStuffins' career with considerable interest and offers her a job, but she declines.
- In "The Ice Moose" You Mean Xmas episode on PB&J Otter, the Ice Moose, Old Tim, is this and delivers presents.
- In "Peppa's Christmas" on Peppa Pig, both Peppa and her little brother George get to meet Santa. The episode seems to imply that the only reason Santa goes up and down the chimney is because he never thought of simply using the door. The vocal credits for the episode list "Father Christmas as himself."