Christmas decorations featuring Santa Claus are extremely popular in the United States, so much so that Santa has become one of the nation's great icons. With his fat stomach, snowy white beard, red suit and black boots, children anticipate the arrival of this jolly giver of Christmas gifts, as mysterious as he is. To get into the Christmas spirit, some families make arts and crafts, while others watch Santa movies, read Santa stories or check out Santa websites.
The American version of Santa Claus is most closely associated with the Dutch Sinter Klaas and arrived in the new world around 1773. In 1809, Washington Irving (writing under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker) described Santa arriving on horseback on Christmas Eve. In 1823, Clement Clarke Moore wrote "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (also commonly referred to as "The Night Before Christmas"), which detailed the physical description of Santa, as well as information about his workshop, traveling by reindeer and the delivery of Christmas gifts. Thomas Nast published pictures of Santa in Harper's Magazine from the 1860s to 1880s, which further cemented the imagery in children's minds.
There are also many parallels between Santa Claus and the Germanic god Odin. For instance, Odin was said to "lead a great hunting party through the sky" during the Germanic winter holiday of Yule. Additionally, Odin was described as riding an "eight-legged horse named Sleipnir," which may have inspired the idea of eight flying reindeer.
In folklore, children would fill their boots with carrots, straw or sugar near the chimney for Sleipnir to eat and Odin would reward those children for their kindness by placing gifts in return. In Skaldic poetry, his various names all translated to "long beard." In addition to these parallels, other Germanic traditions are celebrated at Christmas, such as the hanging of stockings, the giving of sweets, the Christmas ham, Yule logs and the Christmas tree.
There are many websites featuring Santa Claus holiday activities. At "North Pole", your kids can write to Santa, read stories, send e-cards, play games and puzzles, and themselves in holiday stories or print color sheets. Parents can print out a "Good Deed Calendar," look for holiday recipes, print a Santa reply letter or go over instructional units with their kids. The kids will also love "Santa Television", where they can watch the Santa's Village webcam, see a reindeer race, check out the Northern Lights or see Christmas scene videos from around the world!