Santa facts only hardcore fans will know

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You’ve decorated your tree and set out your cookies and milk. You’ve been good all year long. But how much do you know about the man visiting your chimney to determine whether you’ve been naughty or nice? You might think you know all there is to know about Santa Claus, but some of these weird Santa facts may surprise you. See how deep your knowledge of Jolly Saint Nick really goes by delving into these sometimes bizarre facts.

He Isn’t Originally from the North Pole

We immediately associate Santa Claus with the North Pole, but that’s not his original home. The real Saint Nicholas, a Christian bishop who served as the basis for what we now know as Santa Claus, was born in Patara, Lycia, a region that’s now part of Turkey. Saint Nicholas was born in 280, a long time before the advent of the Santa Claus we know today. He inspired the beloved character due to his famous generosity, especially toward the poor and sick.

He had a reputation for helping the needy. One legend says that when he discovered three poor sisters who might get sold into servitude, he snuck into their home one night and left a bag of money behind so they could marry instead. During his life, some claimed Saint Nicholas performed miracles. This cemented him as a protector of children and giver of gifts in many people’s minds and helped him grow from a man into the mythical figure we know today.

A Cartoonist Named Thomas Nast Gave Saint Nick His New Address

So when did Santa move to the North Pole? Not until the 1800s, actually. That’s when Saint Nick gained popularity in the U.S. A religion professor, Clement Clark Moore, wrote a poem for his children in 1823 titled “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” Long before Coca-Cola started using Santa in its advertising in the 1930s, Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843.

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And on Jan. 3, 1863, Thomas Nast, a Bavarian immigrant and political cartoonist, drew Santa Claus for “Harper’s Weekly.” His cartoons depicted Santa visiting Union army camps (the Civil War was still going on at this time). Nast continued drawing Christmas illustrations and later gave Santa his famous North Pole residence. At the time, the North Pole was largely unexplored and therefore mystical and magical, fitting with the legend.

Santa Is One of the Most Popular Non-Biblical Saints in the World

Christian traditions include many saints, but St. Nicholas ranks highly among them. He’s one of the most popular minor saints in churches around the world. In many countries, children receive gifts on Dec. 6, which is St. Nicholas Day. It only makes sense, as he’s the patron saint of children, as well as sailors.

There’s Also a Christmas Devil

Not all Christmas traditions are jolly and merry. There’s also a Christmas devil named Krampus. This half-man, half-goat creature arrives each year to punish children who make the naughty list. According to folklore, he’ll even drag them to hell if they are naughty enough. Krampus visits on Dec. 5 or 6 in keeping with traditions around St. Nicholas Day. “Krampus Night” is a terrifying prospect for children, especially in areas like Austria and Germany. Some parents even dressed up as Krampus to try to frighten their children into better behavior.

A Real Life Santa Joined the North Pole’s City Council

When we say “North Pole,” we mean North Pole, Alaska, in this case. A 68-year-old man ran a write-in campaign in 2015 to earn a spot on North Pole’s City Council. His legal name really is Santa Claus and he’s a Christian monk. His platform? Working on the local budget and legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries for cancer patients like himself, as well as others.

Santa Has 300 Microseconds to Visit Each Household on His List

In 2018, Forbes dug in to discover just how fast Santa has to work to get presents to everyone on Christmas Eve. Based on the idea that there are about 1.6 billion households world wide and the earth is roughly 25 million square miles and that Santa will visit about 31%, or 500 million, of those households, Old Saint Nick has his work cut out for him. Santa needs to travel to each household, park his sleigh, get into the house, deliver the gifts and get back out. And he’s got about 42 hours to do it in (accounting for time zones). All of that adds up to 300 microseconds (0.0003 seconds) per household.

His Wife Is a Relatively Recent Invention

Santa has been around for a long time, with the real Saint Nicholas born in 280. But his wife is relatively recent by comparison. James Rees wrote “The Christmas Legend” as part of a collection of short stories in 1849. Most consider this the first mention of a Mrs. Claus. An 1851 story in the “Yale Literary Magazine” named her Mrs. Santa Claus more clearly.

Bad Children Get Coal Out of Convenience

Have you ever wondered why coal is the punishment of choice for children on the naughty list? The answer is simpler than you may assume. It’s just convenience! When Santa Claus is climbing down the chimney, he has easy access to lumps of coal for the bad kids on his list. More importantly, parents in 19th and 20th century homes, when Santa Claus was becoming a popular cultural figure, burned coal to heat their homes and therefore also had easy access to some.

St. Nicholas Raised Children from the Dead

The real life St. Nicholas became the saint of children in part due to a tall tale about him. As the story goes, three young children arrived at a butcher’s shop. They knocked on the door and asked for shelter and food. The butcher welcomed them in, but only in order to trick them. He killed and dismembered the children and put them in a large salting tub for seven years. That’s when Bishop Saint Nicholas showed up. He ordered the butcher to open the tub, then stuck his hand in and appealed to God. All three children woke up whole and healthy.

People Still Go to See the Remains of Bishop Saint Nicholas

The remains of the real St. Nicholas moved from Turkey to Bari, Italy, in 1087. His final resting place is the Basilica of Saint Nicholas, which Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics still visit to this day. In May, they hold a festival to celebrate St. Nicholas’s remains coming to Italy.

Not Everyone Leaves Out Milk and Cookies

In the U.S., it’s traditional to leave out milk and cookies to thank Santa Claus for his hard work. But that doesn’t hold true everywhere in the world. There are many different traditions when it comes to setting out a snack for Santa. Australians also leave out cookies, but they let Santa refresh himself with an ice cold beer instead of milk.

Some Irish families also leave out beer, Guinness, specifically. In Britain, it’s sherry. Not everyone tries to give Santa a buzz, though. In France it’s carrots and cookies, and in Germany, it’s handwritten letters. Some children around the world also take the time to think of Santa’s helpers. In Argentina, it’s hay and water for Three Kings Day and the king’s horses; in the Netherlands, it’s hay and carrots, again for the horses; and in Denmark, it’s rice pudding for elves.

Santa Claus Might Be a Norse God

While Bishop Saint Nicholas was certainly an inspiration for Santa Claus, the famous figure might have an earlier inspiration as well – the Norse god Odin. As far back as 2 BCE, Germanic peoples celebrated Odin during a Yule holiday that took place during the winter. Odin went on a “Wild Hunt” during this time. It might be the origin of not only the word “Yuletide,” but also its central figure. It doesn’t hurt that Odin was commonly thought of as a bearded, cloaked man who traveled through the sky.

His Postal Code Is H0H 0H0

Santa has a postal code and, at least in Canada, it’s H0H 0H0. Canada did this in order to funnel letters from children to a central location. It doesn’t matter if the letter has an address or not. As long as the postal code is H0H 0H0 it will go to Santa’s central HQ at the Canadian Post. The post office saw this as a better solution than letting the letters go nowhere and pile up. Reportedly, every hopeful letter that goes to H0H 0H0 does elicit a response.

U.S. Letters to Santa Go to Indiana, However

H0H 0H0 is great for children in Canada, but what about kids in the U.S. trying to reach Santa? It turns out their letters end up in Indiana. In the early 20th century, the U.S. Postal Service let postmasters answer letters to Santa in an effort to deal with an onslaught of missives for Saint Nick. Today, kids can also email Santa, but some traditions are still hanging on because the USPS still gets a ton of letters to Santa. Specifically, the postmaster in Santa Claus, Indiana, gets a ton of letters and attempts to answer them with help from the local Santa Claus Museum and Village.

Santa Gets Millions of Letters Every Year

So just how much mail are places like the U.S. and Canada handling thanks to Santa Claus? As of 2012, literally millions of letters. French children sent the most letters in that year, with 1,700,000. Canada was second with 1,350,000. The U.S. was third and still sent more than 1,000,000 total letters to Santa. Other countries like Brazil, Great Britain, Finland, Russia and Germany also had a lot to say to Santa Claus, but none of them broke the one million mark.

He Has Also Been a Goat

So far, we’ve seen Santa as a jolly old man, a Norse god and a real live bishop. But how about a goat? In Scandinavia and northern Europe, the Yule goat often appeared to help celebrate the Yule festival. This comes partially from the Odin legend, as two goats pulled his chariot across the sky. In the 17th century, the Yule goat became a figure who demanded gifts. In the 19th century, he started giving gifts at Yuletide, potentially making him a precursor to what we now think of as Santa Claus. Have you ever seen those small straw figures of goats dressed up in red ribbon? That is probably the Yule goat and not a reindeer.

Not Everyone Welcomes Him Down Their Chimneys

Santa Claus and Christmas are huge traditions in the U.S. and many western countries, but that doesn’t hold true everywhere. Places like the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Austria and much of Latin America strongly reject Santa. It’s not that they hate the jolly old man or gift-giving. Rather, they want to preserve their own cultural versions of Yule time gift-givers instead of letting America-centric images of Santa Claus supersede those.

Many in these countries also want to preserve more of the religious aspect of the holiday season, as they see Santa as representing a much more secular holiday. In an effort to preserve their own unique traditions, they tell Santa Claus to go look elsewhere for chimneys to climb down.

France Has Its Own Traditions, Too

It isn’t just the countries listed above that have their own Yule traditions. Many countries who welcome Santa Claus have their own takes on who he is and how he does his thing. For example, in France Santa has a helper — who’s a cannibal. Pere Fouttard, or “Father Whipper,” liked to eat children, as the stories go. Santa punished him by making him his helper. Now, instead of eating children, he beats the naughty ones with sticks. That’s an improvement over his past profession … mostly.

Being Santa Is a Serious Job

Being Santa Claus is no mean feet. In fact, a school in Denver takes it so seriously that they offer professional classes in being Santa. The Professional Santa Claus School offers educational packages with four different levels of Santa studies. They run classes, training sessions and conferences on how to be the best Santa you can be, and they’ve been doing it for almost 40 years. They say they’ve helped create more than 3,000 “top rate professional Santas and Mrs. Clauses.” They focus on the mindset of being Santa and how to keep some magic in the holiday, especially for children. They teach the Santas how to talk to children and deal with tricky situations, especially at high profile events or while on camera as Santa.

We Aren’t Positive Who Wrote One of the Most Famous Poems About Him

We’ve all heard snatches of the poem “The Night Before Christmas,” but the beloved poem doesn’t have as clear-cut an origin as you might think. While most attribute it to Clement Clarke Moore, when the poem first appeared in the “Troy Sentinel” on Dec. 23, 1823, it was published anonymously. Only in 1844 did Moore finally acknowledge that he wrote the poem. However, Mary Van Deusen claims her great grandfather several times over, Henry Livingston Jr., was the true author. Scholars still debate it. In 2013, the issue went to a mock trial but ended in a hung jury. No one can quite decide where the evidence points in this case.

The Real Saint Nick Probably Didn’t Look Like Pop Culture’s Santa

We all know what popular culture’s Santa looks like. A large man with a bushy white beard, rosy cheeks and, often, pale skin. But the real Saint Nicholas, the Christian bishop, probably looked slightly different. Modern forensic anthropology has allowed experts to reconstruct the saint’s face based on measurements of his remains and other data. What they came up with was a man who still had a decently bushy white beard, but trimmed closer to the style of his time in the 4th century. They also believe Saint Nicholas had brown eyes and olive-toned skin, which might clash with some of those paler, blue-eyed pop culture notions.

He Also Had a Broken Nose

Speaking of Saint Nicholas, he apparently also had an unfortunate broken nose back in his time. The researchers said the “severely” broken nose liked healed askew. But does that mean the patron saint of children was getting in bar fights? Not quite. The researchers said it’s more likely that Saint Nicholas’s broken nose is a result of imprisonment and torture. The Roman Emperor Diocletian persecuted Christians during Saint Nick’s time, and he may have gotten caught up in that. A bonus tidbit: The researchers estimate Saint Nicholas was about 5’6” with a heavy jaw.

Believing in Santa Might Be Good for Children

Believing in Santa Claus might be good for children, and not just because they’ll behave themselves to get more presents during the holiday season. Research tentatively suggests that believing in impossible things, such as Santa Claus, can have beneficial effects for children’s imaginations and counterfactual reasoning skills. That’s what helps humans dream up “out there” inventions like airplanes and the internet.

And losing their belief in Santa can also have benefits. This usually happens slowly, over time. As children come to realize that some of Santa’s powers don’t check out, they reason through their suspicions, perhaps even conducting experiments of their own to test their hypotheses. It might be counter-intuitive, but all of this actually teaches children a lot about how to dream big while tempering those dreams with a dose of hard truth.

The Naughty and Nice List Has Deep Roots

Our modern Santa Claus isn’t the originator of the naughty and nice list. That belongs to an earlier figure called Sinterklaas. He carried around a book that recorded the behavior of children in the past year. It’s thought that that book of his became the basis of the naughty and nice list we know today. Sinterklass himself was also an elderly man with long white hair. He had a red cape and traditionally arrived in the Netherlands in mid-November from Spain.

Writer Washington Irving Helped Create Our Idea of Santa Claus

Washington Irving is known for many things, but few realize how big a hand he had in what we now think of as Christmas and Santa Claus. In particular, he elevated the figure of Saint Nicholas to the beloved Santa Claus we know now. Irving helped found the Saint Nicholas Society of the City of New York in 1835 and even served as its secretary. The “Sleepy Hollow” author also wrote Christmas essays that came to shape American culture into much of what we still know and love today.

Santa’s Sleigh Is HEAVY

Santa Claus is carrying tons of gifts in his sleigh when he heads out on Christmas Eve – and we mean literally tons. According to NORAD, North American Aerospace Defense Command, he’s packing 60,000 tons of gifts at take off. The agency estimates that Santa himself weighs 260 pounds at takeoff but he’ll gain hundreds of pounds after having all those gifts of milk and cookies. Those reindeer better be strong to keep up.

In Fact, Engineers Say He Would Need Hundreds of Thousands of Reindeer

Multiple engineers have taken it upon themselves to sort out exactly what the physics of Santa Claus would entail. According to some, Santa Claus would need 360,000 reindeer to handle the weight of his sleigh fully loaded with gifts.

An ordinary reindeer can manage no more than 300 pounds. Even if flying reindeer can magically manage far more than that, it would still take a whole lot to deal with both the raw weight and the friction from traveling super fast to reach every house in time.

The engineers also say the sleigh, reindeer and Santa Claus would “burst into flames almost instantly, exposing the reindeer behind them and creating deafening sonic booms in their wake.” The whole fleet of reindeer would get vaporized by the intense forces in 4.26 thousandths of a second. But hey, that still allows for about five visits before they go up in smoke.

Santa Consumes a Massive Amount of Calories on Christmas Eve

Here’s more strange math. With hundreds of millions of households to visit, Santa’s got a lot of cookies to eat. If he eats just one cookie per house, at an average of 130 calories per cookie, Santa Claus would consume 123.5 billion calories in a single night. That’s going to make sticking to a diet a bit of a challenge. The researchers behind this fun fact go on to point out that there are about 3,500 calories in one pound, meaning poor Santa gains 35 million pounds in one night. Hopefully, flying around the world at impossible speeds with a team of 360,000 reindeer helps burn some of that off.

Chocolate Chip Cookies Are His Favorite

… At least they’re the cookie he gets the most. In the U.S., children leave out chocolate chip cookies and Oreos more than any other type of cookie. Hopefully, he’s a big fan because in the U.S. alone he has about one million cookies to take down. Worldwide, that number jumps to almost a billion.

Santa Claus Is the Most Powerful ‘X-Men’ Mutant Ever

Santa’s powers aren’t confined to gift-giving. He’s also a super powerful mutant in the “X-Men” universe. That’s canon, by the way. In a six-page “X-Men” short, the heroes celebrate Christmas in New York. Cerebro suddenly detects “the most powerful mutant ever.” When the team goes to investigate they find none other than Santa Claus himself.

Given the amount of cookies he has to eat and all those hundreds of thousands of vaporizing reindeer, we suppose it makes sense that Santa has some secret powers up his sleeves in order to get the job done.

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