‘Tis the time to make merry! The air is chilly, but filled with the fragrance of festive preparations. Twinkly lights line the streets, as revellers bustle about finishing their last-minute shopping. Homes are adorned in festive decorations, as people busy themselves over pots of aromatic mulled wine, plum cakes, and goodies. Christmas is here. And it is time to get together with our loved ones and celebrate with warmth, love, and joy.
Christmas is celebrated differently in different parts of the world. Some people go door to door singing carols, while others prefer staying in the warmth of their homes with a glass of wine. Some have people over, while others head out on a vacation. No matter how different the celebrations are, there are a few traditions that are universal, and have become synonymous with Christmas. Soulveda explores the origins of a few such legends and traditions associated with the festival of joy and cheer.
A common image that Christmas brings to mind is that of a jolly old man in a red suit who shimmies down the chimney on the eve of Christmas to leave presents for the little ones of the house. Known as Santa Claus or Father Christmas, this man is said to ride a cart pulled by reindeers and is accompanied by elves.
The story of Santa Claus is said to have originated from the legend of Saint Nicholas, a wealthy fourth-century monk. While the mythical Santa Claus is believed to live in the North Pole, Saint Nicholas is believed to have lived in modern-day Turkey. It is said that he distributed his wealth among the needy. Some say, he was conferred sainthood for his piety and generosity.
The practice of hanging decorative stockings under the chimney has an interesting backstory. Legend has it that once there lived a poor man who had three daughters he needed to marry off. However, he had been unsuccessful, as he didn’t have enough money to pay as dowry to their grooms. People of his village knew of his plight but could do nothing to help him. When the word reached Saint Nicholas, he decided to help the man out. He visited his house in the dead of the night, climbed the roof and dropped a bag of gold through the chimney, which fell into a stocking that had been put to dry above the fireplace. The next morning, the man found the gold and was ecstatic. He married off his first daughter with the money. Months later, he found another bag of gold in one of his stockings, with which he married off his second daughter. When the time came for the wedding of his third daughter, the man wanted to find out who was giving him all the gold. So, he stayed up every night, keeping watch. Finally, when Saint Nicholas was caught red-handed, he pleaded with the man to not tell anyone about it. However, word spread and soon, every time people got surprise gifts, they began thinking that it was from Saint Nicholas. And thus began the practice of hanging stockings by the fireplace.