Christmas is always associated with the spirit of sharing and giving. Not only Christianity, but most religions emphasize the importance of giving and it is often said that it is in giving that we receive most. Santa Claus is, in essence, the symbol of this very spirit. When Christianity spread to the parts of the world where other pagan religions were being practiced, people who followed those religions were perhaps more sensitive than others. They realized that though Santa went out handing gifts to celebrate this spirit of giving, no one gave him anything! How hungry should he be after travelling all over the world to give gifts to children, and also his reindeer who ferry him through the skies? Thus began the practice of leaving out food for Santa.
Legend Behind Putting Food For Santa
Before we begin to understand the significance behind the practice of putting out food for Santa Claus, we might try to understand the legend behind Santa himself – who he was, where he is known to have come from and how he came to assume his present form are some questions that need to be answered.
Legend Of Santa Claus
Santa Claus, also known all over the world as Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas and various other names, is a legendary figure. He, in many Western cultures, is known to bring gifts to the homes of the good children during the wee hours of Christmas Eve, December 24th or on his Feast Day, December 6th, which is also known as Saint Nicholas Day.
One legend, which is associated with Santa Claus, says that he lives in the North Pole, or the land that sees snow all year round. Legends about Santa Claus also say that he maintains a list of children throughout the world, classifying them according to their behavior, as "naughty" or "nice". And he delivers presents, including toys, candy, and other gifts to all the good boys and girls in the world, with the exception of “naughty” children, to whom he gives coal if they have been exceptionally ill mannered.
Where Does The Legend Of Santa Originate From?
Saint Nicholas is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Santa Claus; in fact, the term Santa Claus may well be the mispronounced version of Saint Nicholas. He was a fourth century Greek Christian bishop of Myra, a province that belonged to the Byzantine Anatolia. Nicholas was known all over the land for the generous gifts he gave to the poor and the neglected people; the most popular legend goes that he presented the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian man with three gold bags as dowry so that they could get married well and need not turn to prostitution.
Germanic Paganism And Its Similarities
Researchers have found many a similarity between the portrayal of Santa Claus and that of the figure of Odin, a major god amongst the Germanic peoples before they too converted to Christianity. Odin was known to be the figure that led a great hunting party through the sky riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir that could leap great distances, which perhaps explains the story about Santa Claus’ flying reindeer. The story further states that children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar, near the chimney for Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by placing candy and other gifts for them after Sleipnir ate. This may be one of the stories that may have given rise to the practice of placing food for Santa and his reindeers to eat.
Most stories behind the practice of leaving food for Santa and his reindeer have their origins in pagan beliefs. In fact, many pagan cultures in Europe had a tradition of offering food to the ancestors on particularly significant dates of the calendar, such as the winter solstice. These food gifts were meant to please the ancestors, in the hopes that they would bless their living descendants. A number of other cultures also followed similar traditions. For instance, the Mexicans who celebrate the Day of the Dead to honor their ancestors and many cultures across Asia believe in paying respects to the deceased. As Christianity spread all over Europe, this tradition was undoubtedly retained, though its explanation and significance metamorphosed into what we see it now. Thus, the practice of leaving out food for Santa can be summed up as an act of gratitude by common people towards him.