By: Morgan Watters
Have you ever wondered where the Christmas figures and symbols we all know originated from? Do you know the stories behind them? No matter what you believe or celebrate, most of us are familiar with Santa Claus, Krampus, Elves and Christmas trees. Here is a brief history of their origins and how they came to be what we know today.
This jolly legend with the snow-white hair, big belly, red suit and love for cookies came from the historical figure St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was a monk from around 280 A.D. in what is now modern day Turkey. He was known as the patron saint of children who was kind and giving. His generous nature is how Santa Claus’ gift giving ways were inspired. The Dutch gave him the nickname “Sinter Klaus” which is where the name Santa Claus was derived from.
Krampus is known as the counterpart to Santa Claus because he punishes naughty children. He is a half-goat demon whose legend originates from Germany. The name Krampus is derived from Krampen which means ‘claw’. Krampus was first a part of Paganism and Norse mythology before he was associated with Christmas. Krampus is the son of the Norse god Hel and was a figure/symbol of the winter solstice.
Elves come from Northern Germanic roots, particularly Scandinavia. The cultures of this region compose what is known as Norse Mythology. The folklore of this region has depictions of many magical creatures such as elves and fairies. The elves were called asàlfur, or huldufòlk (hidden-folk) and were known to be quite mischievous. The spread of Christianity caused elves and other Pagan entities to become demonized. However, this viewpoint changed in 1823 when “The Night Before Christmas,” a.k.a. “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” featured the Christmas elves we know currently.
Christmas trees were originally a pagan tradition before they were associated with Christmas in the 4th century C.E. Many believed evergreens warded off witches, ghosts and evil spirits. The Early Romans used evergreens to celebrate the solstice feast Saturnalia to honor the god Saturn. Celts of Northern Europe decorated with evergreens to symbolize everlasting life. The current wide-spread Christmas tree tradition started in 16th century Germany when Christianity adopted it.