Times may change, but Santa’s still a guy

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Take it from an expert.

French logo design company GraphicSprings wanted a modern, rebranded, version of Santa Claus. The company polled 400 people in the United States and Great Britain to get their vision of a Santa for the modern era. They compiled the input and created multiple versions which were then presented to 4,000 people who voted on the designs.

The results can be seen on the GraphicSprings website but include tight jeans, a diet, tattoos and replacing the reindeer with a hoverboard.

An interesting result of the survey was that about 27% of survey participants believed that Santa needed to have a more fundamental change. Nearly 11% think Santa should be female and more than 17% say the jolly old elf should be gender-neutral.

Santa has changed many times over the centuries. He doesn’t really have an internationally uniform appearance even today. For that matter, Santa doesn’t even make his annual journey on the same day in all countries.

In the U.S., our vision of Santa Claus has been shaped by Clement Clarke Moore’s (or perhaps Maj. Henry Livingston Jr.’s) A Visit from St. Nicholas and illustrations by artists Thomas Nast and Haddon Sundblom. Sundblom’s advertising art for Coca-Cola are credited as the source of the modern image of Santa Claus.

However, unlike the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, Santa’s gender isn’t subject to revision. That’s because Santa Claus is based on a real person.

St. Nicholas actually lived. He was born in the Greek city of Patara, which is near the modern Turkish town of Gelemiş, in 270 A.D. and died 73 years later in Myra, which is now Demre, Turkey. He is often called St. Nicholas of Myra.

Nicholas was a bishop in the early Christian church and tradition says that in 325 A.D. he attended the First Council of Nicea, a conference where much of modern Christian dogma was determined.

He was born into wealth but was orphaned at an early age. He spent much of his adult life distributing his wealth to the less fortunate. His gifts were often secret, in keeping with Biblical teachings that warned about making a big deal of one’s good works.

The church attributes numerous miracles to St. Nicholas but he is best-remembered for something fairly ordinary.

According to tradition, there was a man who had three daughters. Being poor, the man had no money for dowries. In those days, no dowry often meant no husband and no husband generally meant no income. Sadly, it was fairly common for young unmarried women to turn to prostitution for a livelihood.

Hearing of the man’s plight, Nicholas tossed a bag of gold coins through a window in the man’s house. He did the same thing for the next two nights, ensuring the young women would have dowries. On the third night, the man stayed up and caught Nicholas in the act but Nicholas made the man swear not to tell anyone.

Over time, the accounts of Nicholas’ generosity changed, ultimately becoming a narrative where the daughters had hung their stocking by the chimney to dry. Nicholas climbed to the roof of the house and dropped the three bags of gold into their stockings in a single night. This is the origin of the practice of hanging stockings by the chimney and the reason that there should always be an orange (or tangerine) or a bag of candy coins in the toe of the stocking. It’s to commemorate the bags of gold.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of a long list of people and occupations, among them sailors and pawnbrokers. But he is also the patron saint of children. Between this and the tale of his generosity, St. Nicholas became the spirit of Christmas.

While written records of his life are hard to find, that doesn’t mean much. The time in which Nicholas lived was turbulent and writings were generally on papyrus. We know that he lived; his remains are venerated as holy relics.

But the one thing that would seem to be beyond dispute is that Nicholas was male.

There’s nothing wrong with changing Santa’s attire, though one might question the wisdom of trainers instead of boots for a guy who delivers toys as far north as the Arctic Circle and balancing on a hoverboard might be awkward with his bag of gifts. Santa’s current garb dates back about 80 years and it may be time for a makeover.

But let’s leave Santa’s gender alone. St. Nick was male 1,700 years ago; it’s best to leave him that way.

No matter how, or if, you celebrate, Best Wishes to you all for the holiday season!

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