Your favourite paedophile
The modern image is benign: a fat jolly supernatural fellow, and the implausible giver of gifts to children. And his mortal doppelgangers in innumerable shops and seasonal events.
But is there a historical original? And would he be welcomed in today’s society?
The answers are a qualified Yes, and a pretty unqualified No. The Yes comes from tracing “Santa Claus” back to “St Nicholas”, the 4th century Bishop of Myra. It’s a somewhat-tenuous derivation that works very differently in different modern languages, and is not the only origin story: hence only a qualified Yes to the man we call St Nicholas as the original Santa.
So who was this man?
Well, for one thing, he was quite the opposite of the modern image of jollity. He appears to have been a killjoy who saw fun as a sin and prayed earnestly while others let their hair down. There are possible hints that he might even have prayed for divine retribution on the sinners, though that remains speculation. Not, in character, a role model for the modern Santa.
But in one thing – the story that lends credibility to his being the origin of Santa – he was very much the role model. He gave gifts to children. Gifts of gold, that might be thought to sit uneasily with Christian ideas of disdain for worldly wealth.
It’s in the recipients of his generosity that the true nature of the story becomes clear. These are girls. They’re at the age where they rebel a bit against parental discipline, but their father keeps them on a tight reign to protect them from the Big Bad World. In other words, young teens. Nicholas’s gift of gold helps liberate them to have some … erm … fun. So not an early case of “bishop and choirboys”, but rather one like the girls in this more modern story (albeit without the racial element).
Was he in fact a pimp? I know of no strong evidence, but circumstantially it seems entirely likely. It would account for his repeating the gift for several girls, and might’ve helped with being able to afford them! But at the very least, he was not a man modern parents would want near their children!