• 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

  • News

    Alaskans march against domestic violence and sexual assault

    by Shannon Ballard on Mar 23, 19:54

    Communities across Alaska are taking steps forward, marching in solidarity against what they call an epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault. On Thursday, the Zonta Club of Anchorage organized a march from the Delaney Park Strip to Town Square Park. Roughly 100 people attended. Demonstrations such as this are at the center of the state’s […]

  • Politics

    Alaska Senate passes bill to allow Uber, Lyft in Alaska

    by Liz Raines on Mar 23, 19:24

    The Alaska Senate passed a bill Thursday that gives ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft the green light in Alaska. The measure passed 14 to 5, but not without lengthy debate. Lawmakers spent more than four hours going over the Senate Bill 14. Members of the Democratic minority raised concerns about a provision that allows […]

  • News

    Military props up Alaska’s economy in tough financial times

    by Liz Raines on Mar 23, 19:07

    Alaska’s military leaders are worried the state could become a target for North Korea, and that has armed forces ramping up. Top military officials in Alaska gave state lawmakers an update on the state of the military Thursday, one that shows the new efforts go beyond public safety to helping protect the state’s economy. Alaska’s purse […]

  • On-Air

    Reality Check w/ John Tracy: To vote or not to vote

    by John Tracy on Mar 23, 18:31

    So, here’s a question for you. Do you know who’s running for Anchorage Assembly in your area? Chances are you don’t. Don’t feel bad about that. I have to confess that up until I started writing this commentary, I didn’t know the candidates in my area either, and the election is just 12 days away. […]

  • Sports

    Results: ASAA high school basketball quarterfinals

    by Dave Goldman on Mar 23, 17:05

    Girls 3A Quarterfinals Sitka 78 – Valdez 22 Four players scored in the double figures to lead the Sitka Wolves to an easy win over Valdez. Zosha Krupa scored 22 points in 20 minutes. Alexandra Kirby chipped in a double-double with ten points and ten rebounds. Anchorage Christian 54 – Galena 37 After a slow […]

  • Politics

    White House tells House Republicans ,’Let’s vote’ on health care bill

    by Associated Press on Mar 23, 16:44

    The Latest on the upcoming health care vote in the House (all times local): 7:50 p.m. President Donald Trump wants the House to vote on the health care bill, and Republicans say a vote will occur Friday. White House officials had a simple message to a divided House Republican caucus on the bill: “Let’s vote.” […]

  • Results mostly positive with ASD’s fitness trackers

    by Daybreak Staff on Mar 23, 12:33

    In the fall of 2015 the Anchorage School District handed out a device called “Sqord” to students in 36 schools. The device is similar to a Fitbit watch and connects a social online world with activity tracking. Kids accumulated points based on how active they were and can compare with friends and classmates. The initiative […]

  • See the Easter Bunny and more on the railroad’s Easter Train

    by Daybreak Staff on Mar 23, 12:31

    Families looking to get out of Anchorage and celebrate spring and Easter can hop on board the Alaska Railroad’s Easter Train on April 8. The train will depart from Anchorage twice, once in the morning and in the afternoon. The total ride is expected to last two and a half hours. It will head down the […]