We all know that the prototype of Santa Claus is a Christian Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker. During the spread and flourishing of Christianity, this image was merged with the old pagan gods of winter and the New Year, for more quick and easy integration of the new religion among the common people.
Many Northern peoples associated the god of winter with withering and death, and it often had the image of old humanoid creature. The winter was always a time of severe trials, severe weather, eternal cold and darkness and such were the gods personifying this time of the year- heartless and harsh.
Today the official residence and place of origin of Santa is a small village in Finland (Joulupukin Pajakylä). Finns, in turn, called Santa Joulupukki, which means Christmas goat. In our days this character similar to Santa, but let's find out where it came from...
Far Far North
Many tribes, having settled in Lapland had adopted the customs, traditions and legends of the people, who lived on this land for centuries - the Sami. And Joulupukki also was passed to them by inheritance, he was (or is) one of the most feared creatures in mythology.
Joulupukki was the God of winter, the Forests and the night. He appeared to people in the guise of a huge creature with goat horns, was rising above the trees and didn’t hesitate to eat people, to warm up with help of their warm blood. The ancient pagans on the last day of winter brought to him in the sacrifice of young men.
On December 21-22 is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, after which daylight begins to widen again, which is why this day is considered the beginning of the New Year.
The victim was tied to fir tree, was disemboweled and his internal organs hung on a tree branch, the tree trunk was completely daubed in the victim's blood. So the heathen fed Joulupukki before he went to sleep, that he slept as tightly as possible and didn't prevent to the arrival of spring and summer by his awakening.
The fir tree was chosen as the sacred tree not by chance, its evergreen view symbolizes immortality. It was considered that in these trees lives a wood spirit, or they are entrance into his world.
During a hard frost, the trees burst, literally, because the liquid inside the barrel greatly expanded. Ancient people believed that the crackling of the trees indicates the arrival of Joulupukki in our world.
Later, in the culture of Northern peoples, Joulupukki became more «civilized». From the God, which longed only to destroy people, he gradually turned into a deity with defined responsibilities.
Now it was almost human, or a demigod in human form, instead of clothes he wore a goatskin (bloody side out) with horns. His main goal was to get into the owner's house, get drunk and scare the kids.
Children who behave badly, he took to his home, where he beat them with rods to death, or boiled alive in a cauldron (a traditional way to scare kids and make them more manageable).
About which kids are bad and which are good Joulupukki learned with the help of his servants dwarfs, who were sitting in the Echo caves and overheard the minds of children around the world. These caves are inside the hill of Korvatunturi, which is now officially Santa's village. The shape of the hill resembles the rabbit ears and allowing the dwarfs (elves) to hear the dreams and actions of children.
If the owners forgot to give him treats, then Joulupukki ate their reindeer, in his true form- a supernatural being, devoid of bone and blood, with hair to the ground, which hiding his insides from the human's eyes.
He had a wife Muori - the embodiment of darkness and cold, the flame was quenched, and the water was freezing when she was approaching.
Later, in the middle ages, Joulupukki turned just into an evil and harmful spirit, who lives under the floor in the kitchen. Traditionally, new year's eve you need to give him alcohol and cereal, then he would not destroy the house.
In the 19th century Joulupukki already looked like a man who dresses up in a goat. Before the new year he went home and checked was everything ready for the holiday or not (purely in the house, ready food, whether the owners of the house new clothes). People fed him biscuits and dumplings, to appease. If the goat was pleased with food and order in the house, would insure the owners good luck in the next year.
The last image of Joulupukki, before he teamed up with Santa, has become nearly harmless (compared to its initial acts). By the end of the 19th century, he began not just check the house, but also giving gifts to the poor and needy and always paid special attention to children.
The blood-stained goatskin, which he wore, turned into a red woolen robe, the goats separated from the original image and turned in transport, they were harnessed to his sleigh. He has only a small horns, as a reminder of his tricks and mischief.
After about 40 years, on the basis of this last image was created known around the world Santa Claus. The silver-haired grandfather with a long beard (goat's beard in the past), in a red robe (bloody side out goat skin), on sleigh with reindeer (which he ate before).
Christmas trees were decorated with bright toys (instead of the internal organs of the human victims). Elves, who spied on kids to steal them, now just respond to their letters. And the naughty kids just don't get gifts that they wanted, instead of being cooked in a cauldron. To obtain a good Santa, people spent a couple of thousand years.
sources: How Joulupukki the finnish Santa went from naughty to nice, Joulupukki WiKi, Yule Goat,Sami people, Sami Deities and Mythic Figures, Santa Claus a special thank for unique images for the film Rare Exports by illustrator Lauri Ahonen