Where does Santa Claus actually come from?
Santa Clause, Saint Nicholas or Samichlaus. The man in the red suit goes by many names. But who is the mysterious old man with the white beard who brings our children Grittibänz and tangerines every year on December 6th?
The Samichlaus custom as we know it today does not come entirely from the life story of Saint Nicholas of Myra.
The custom of Samichlaus has its origins in the fourth century AD. Bishop Nicholas of Myra was the patron saint of children in what is now Turkey at the time.
Nicholas of Myra
Legend has it that Nicholas was born into a wealthy family. After the early death of his parents, the saint distributed his entire inheritance to the poor people of his hometown of Patara and then left. A few years later he was ordained Bishop of Myra. That is why he often appears in a bishop’s robe and with a bishop’s hat.
Every year on his birthday, Bishop Nicholas dressed in his precious bishop’s costume, picked up his shepherd’s staff and loaded his donkey with a heavy sack. This was filled to bursting with apples, tangerines, nuts and honey cake. So loaded he strode through the streets and distributed his gifts and made the day a feast.
Numerous legends of miracles and good deeds that he is said to have performed are entwined around his life. He healed the sick, rescued ships in distress and even brought the dead back to life.
Finally, on December 6th in the middle of the fourth century, the saint died of old age.
Two Santa Clauses, one Samichlaus
However, the Samichlaus custom as we know it today does not come entirely from the life story of Saint Nicholas of Myra. In fact, there was another charitable Santa Claus throughout history. He was first abbot of Sion (not Sion in Switzerland, but a place near Patara) and later also bishop of Myra. He asked the students about their good and bad deeds. At the end of the visit, each student received a small gift. Over time, these two figures mixed up and the Samichlaus custom, which we know, came into being.
And who the hell is the dirt?
The dirt and hell? Exactly, because that’s where he comes from. With his face soiled with soot and his rod, he roams the country’s living rooms with Santa Claus and raises the children. Of course under supervision. Saint Nicholas put him in chains.
An interview with Samichlaus and Schmutzli: “Doris, what’s the name of the song with de Guetzli?”(02:30)
In the past, the Schmutzli didn’t have such a nice name: Düvel, Beelzebub or Leutfresser was what he was called back then. Children who were not good or did not say their prayers were put in the sack. But those who were good received gifts from Santa Claus.
Nowadays, of course, the Schmutzli is no longer on the road as a spawn of hell, but as the good-natured helper of Santa Claus.