He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
— Clement C. Moore, "A Visit From St. Nicholas"
The very personification of gift-giving and the Christmas Spirit, Santa Claus travels the world each Christmas Eve, giving toys to all the good little children.
Tradition traces Santa Claus back to a 4th Century bishop named Nikolaos of Myra, in what is today Turkey. He was known for his generosity and a popular story about him tells how he helped the three daughters of a poor parishioner by slipping anonymous gifts into their home at night which permitted them to marry. Saint Nicholas became a popular saint and his feast day, December 6, is celebrated all across Europe. In many countries the celebration involves putting small gifts into the shoes of good little children, and lumps of coal into the shoes of bad ones.
Dutch settlers in New York brought the tradition of Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas, as they called him, to America. Writer Washington Irving recounted a version of the Dutch stories in his book A Knickerbocker's History of New York, anglicizing the name to "Santa Claus". Irving's version was dressed like a Dutch sailor of the Colonial Era and rode a wagon that flew over the rooftops.
But the modern version of Santa Claus was really established with the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas", best known by it's opening line: "'Twas the night before Christmas…", printed in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823. The poem was published anonymously, but has generally been attributed to a writer named Clement C. Moore, although more recent scholarship has questioned this. The poem describes Santa's M.O.: the flying sleigh with the eight tiny reindeer; the names of the deer; how he comes down the chimney; his round little belly that shakes when he laughs like a bowlful of jelly.
Political cartoonist Thomas Nast elaborated on this description with a series of illustrations he drew of Santa Claus for Harper's Weekly in 1863. Among other things, Nast established Santa's workshop of elves at the North Pole, where he makes the toys he delivers on Christmas.
Santa became a popular advertising figure in the Twentieth Century, perhaps most notably in a long-running series of illustrations in Coca-Cola ads. Department stores and shopping malls annually hire people to dress as Santa so that children can have their picture taken with him and personally tell St. Nick what they'd like for Christmas.
This association with commerce means that some people see Santa less as a personification of the Spirit of Giving and more of a personification of Holiday Shopping. This is parodied in Stan Freeburg's satire "Green Christmas" in which a cigarette manufacturer boasts that they will have a more rugged, manly Santa this year sporting a tattoo on each arm. One says "Merry Christmas", the other says "Less Tar".
So much for the history. What do we know about Santa Claus?
He lives in the remote frozen North; at the North Pole according to American tradition, although other cultures place him in Lapland. In the United Kingdom he is known as "Father Christmas" and many European countries call him by his traditional name of Saint Nicholas. He has a workshop where he and his workforce of elves make toys for children. He has a list of all the children of the world sorted by whether they are "naughty" or "nice".
Once a year, on Christmas Eve, he travels around the world delivering the toys in a flying sleigh pulled by eight magical reindeer, (nine if you count Rudolf). How can he travel around the world in just one night? He can't, obviously. But by traveling in the direction of the Earth's rotation, he has a full 24 hours to make the trip1. We know this is true because every year NORAD tracks Santa's flight on their radar.
He delivers the toys by coming down the chimney and leaving them either underneath the Christmas Tree or in the stockings that are hung by the chimney with care. What about families who don't have a fireplace? Ask your mother.
And we all know what "Santa" is an anagram of, don't we boys and girls?
- Bad Ass Santa
- Christmas Tropes
- Mall Santa
- Santa Claus Is Comin To Town
- Sexy Santa Dress
- Surprise Santa Encounter
- Yes Virginia
- News: The Torture Colony - learn who killed Santa Claus
Game and Story Use
- A silly plot that never gets old: Something has happened to Santa (maybe it was even the PC's fault!) and it's up to the PC's to take his place! Can they save Christmas?
- Slightly less silly: The PC's find themselves in a remote region/century/planet that does not celebrate Christmas. The children are so unhappy here! Since Santa does not exist here, it's up to the PC's to invent him!
- It's almost become a cliche to play with the traditional version of Santa and twist it, such as the sadistic Robot Santa from Futurama, or Santa's Secret Service elf bodyguards from The Tick; or even The Grinch.
- Okay, it is a cliche. That doesn't mean you shouldn't do it.
- It's a bit harder to do a straight Santa Claus story in a non-silly campaign, but it can still be done.
- A Time Travel or Historical campaign might have an encounter with the "real" Santa: the historical St. Nicholas, or perhaps a Dutch toymaker in colonial New York who could have been a model for Irving's Santa.
- Time travelling PCs may find that a spate of good deeds for which they were responsible has given birth to a tradition like this.
- Or in a fantasy campaign, the PCs could encounter a generous toymaker who could become the inspiration for a legend like Santa Claus.
- A fantasy world might already have a figure connected with the Winter Solstice who is like Santa Claus, but might be different in some ways, like Discworld's Hogfather.
- Okay, what's the real story behind NORAD following Santa's travels every year? Is Santa a threat to National Security?
- Probably to ensure that we wasn't mistaken for a Soviet aircraft (or missile) coming over the pole and shot down…
- A comprehensive list of everyone in the world and who is naughty and who is nice. How's that for a MacGuffin?
- Come to think of it, a lot of Santa's equipment — the magic sleigh, the flying reindeer, the toybag of holding — would make worthy treasures, gimmicks or plot devices.
- When the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" was first published, Clement C. Moore denied being the author. Why did he deny it?
- Maybe because he wasn't the actual author, as some modern scholars believe.
- Maybe he was just embarrassed about being associated with a piece of whimsical verse for children.
- Nah, that's too boring.
- More likely, the poem contains hidden secrets of a sinister nature revealing the TRUTH about the Masons/Illuminati/Old Ones!!!
- This could all make for one wierd-ass mythago.