• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
2m 21s

Reality Check w/ John Tracy: Is Santa from Siberia?

By John Tracy 3:54 PM December 22, 2016

In 1897, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote the New York Sun a letter, asking simply, “Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”

Almost a hundred years after Virginia’s letter, I had the privilege as a journalist to travel around the Arctic Circle as part of a circumpolar outreach. We visited 14 Arctic cities in seven nations in the course of a week. And what I discovered is that each region claimed to be the home of Santa Claus.

Most Santa-philes trace the origins of Santa Claus to Saint Nicholas, a fourth-century Greek bishop, famous for giving generously to the poor. He’s the basis for the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas.

The pagan rituals of Germanic Europe got rolled in, along with the midwinter celebration of Yule, marked by the appearance of the Norse God Odin, who along with being the father of Thor, was also recognized by his long white beard. He in turn came to be known to the Anglo Saxons as Father Christmas.

The name Santa Claus first appeared in the American press in 1773.

Santa himself has a much documented history, but what of the other Christmas characters and rituals, like Reindeer and Santa bringing gifts down the chimney? And why do we associate him with the North Pole?

The first mention of Santa’s reindeer-powered sleigh came in Clement Moore’s poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” or as most people know it, “Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

But — as I learned on my round the world journey — that may not be the whole story.

The people of northern and eastern Russia were, and are, reindeer herders. Life revolves around the reindeer, providing both food and transportation; harnessed together to pull sleds. It’s a culture based in shamanism. As tradition has it, the shamans would visit Siberian families, where the people lived not in igloos but in yurts made of reindeer hides with an opening at the top, much like a chimney. After a heavy winter snow storm sometimes the only opening in the yurt was the chimney itself, through which the shamans would drop gifts to the family below.

So Santa, it would seem borrows a little something from Christianity to Shamanism. From Greece to Siberia.

So as the New York Sun wrote more than 100 years ago: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. And he’s been around a very, very long time.

From my home to yours — Merry Christmas, everyone.

John’s opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.

Latest Stories

  • Statue stands in honor of Iditarod founder

    by Dave Leval on Jun 24, 22:21

    He already has a school named after him, now, there’s another way to honor the man known as the “father of the Iditarod.” It took Palmer artist Pat Garley took roughly 18 months to complete the “Joe Redington, Senior on the Trail” statue that sits outside Redington Junior-Senior High School. The part of Redington weighs […]

  • Rookie musher first to sign up for 2018 Iditarod

    by Dave Leval on Jun 24, 22:19

    Shaynee Traska has what she needs as she prepares for the biggest challenge of her athletic career. The Yukon Qyuest 300 veteran from Two Rivers wants to play with the big dogs. Traska is the first person to sign up for next year’s Iditarod. “Very surprised, being a big Iditarod sign up day, I thought […]

  • News

    Pride Fest celebrates 40 years in Anchorage

    by Heather Hintze on Jun 24, 18:04

    Hundreds of people turned out in downtown Anchorage for the 40th annual Pride Fest. Mo Haddock and Callene Monasmith set their lawn chairs up early to get a front for the parade. “It’s a lot of fun. We like to people watch anyway but today is very fulfilling. Very heartwarming to see so many people […]

  • News

    Here’s what is pushing up U.S. home prices

    by CBS News on Jun 24, 14:53

    When it comes to buying a home in the U.S., the tide is turning in favor of sellers. The typical residential property that’s up for sale currently stays on the market for 77 days, according to Zillow — that’s the shortest listing time since the real estate service started tracking the data. While demand for […]

  • Mom left 2 children who died in hot car as punishment, police say

    by CBS News on Jun 24, 14:35

    A Texas woman told investigators that she left her 2-year-old daughter and 16-month-old son in a hot car last month to teach the girl a lesson, police said. The children died after spending several hours in the car. Cynthia Marie Randolph, 24, was being held Saturday on two counts of causing serious bodily injury to […]

  • Six inmates who saved guard’s life rewarded with shorter sentences

    by CBS News on Jun 24, 14:32

    Officer down. It’s one of the scariest calls a sheriff can receive. But when Polk County Sheriff Johnny Moats got that call on June 12, it didn’t turn into the nightmare scenario he might have expected. On the contrary, that hair-raising call was the start of something heartwarming. Its unexpected source? A group of selfless […]

  • Lifestyle

    How would the Senate health care bill actually affect Medicaid?

    by CBS News on Jun 24, 14:26

    Democrats and left-leaning think tanks say Senate Republicans’ health care bill would be disastrous for individuals and families on Medicaid, the federal program that provides health coverage to low-income Americans. But White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Friday said President Trump is “committed to making sure that no one who currently is in the […]

  • News

    How the U.S. Army counters North Korea threats

    by CBS News on Jun 24, 14:23

    SEOUL, South Korea — While “CBS This Morning” co-host Norah O’Donnell and her team were in South Korea, the U.S. Army took CBS News on an aerial tour to give us a first-hand look at what they are doing to counter threats from North Korea. We hitched a ride from Yongsan Army Garrison on a […]