Quick Quiz II (with answer)

This is a question written by two of my students. Can you guess the answer?
The Spanish have a special way of celebrating midnight on New Year’s Eve.

a) They hug the people around them

b) They dance the flamenco

c) They eat twelve grapes


How did St Nicholas become Santa?

In a comment (Who is Santa?) Kouta asks a very good question: how did Saint Nicholas become Santa?

Not much is known about Saint Nicholas. It is not known when he was born, though it is believed that he died on December 6th 342, living most of his life in a city called Myra in southern Turkey. Here is a picture of him, but it was drawn a long time after his death.


Saint Nicholas must have been a very popular person. Centuries after his death people were still telling stories about him, and it is these stories that we hear today. Are the stories true? Maybe, maybe not, but Saint Nicholas was surely a very good and kind person, since so many people happily remembered him.

One story is about three sisters who were very poor, and their parents didn’t have enough money for the daughters to get married (every girl needed money to pay for the wedding and a new house). Nicholas heard about this and secretly tried to help the sisters. So he climbed on the roof and threw three bags of gold money down the chimney. By chance one of the bags fell into a stocking that one of the girls had hung to dry. But the father saw Nicholas and told everyone, and Nicholas was greatly loved. From this time it is said that Nicholas started to walk along the streets on Christmas Eve giving presents to all good children.

These are some of the things that Santa Claus does today.

Whether this story is true or not no-one really knows. History and legend often mix together and I guess that has happened in this case. Nevertheless Saint Nicholas is one of the most loved of Christian saints; there are more than 1,200 churches named St Nicholas’ Church, and his feast day on December 6th is still celebrated by many Christians.

Stamp from Iceland

In a comment on ‘Who is Santa?’ Robert-Gilles writes of some postage stamps from Iceland that show Santa Claus, but without the red clothes.

I tried to check out a few stamps from Iceland and I found this one.


I wonder if this is similar to the stamps Robert-Gilles saw?

By the way, Iceland has some really attractive stamps. Is Iceland famous for its stamps?

Who is Santa?

Most of us know that Santa Claus lives near the North Pole, probably somewhere in Finland, and every Christmas Eve he gets dressed in a bright red suit, jumps into a sleigh pulled by reindeer, and delivers gifts to all the children of the world, entering their house by the chimney.

A comment from Robert-Gilles (When does Xmas start?) asks two very good questions:

1. Who was the original Santa?

2. Why does Santa wear red clothes?

I’m pretty sure I know the answer to No1, and I think I know the answer to No2.

Santa Claus was originally Saint Nicholas, who lived in Myra in southern Turkey in the 4th century. His name in German is Sankt Niklaus and his name in Dutch is Sinterklaas, so it’s easy to see how this changed to Santa Claus.

Not much is known about Saint Nicholas, except that he was a very kind and popular man who helped many people, especially the poor, and it is thought he also gave them gifts.

But no-one knows if he wore red clothes or had a white beard. I thought his red clothes started with Coca Cola commercials in the 1930s. For many years Coca Cola used Santa Claus as a character to help sell their drink. Since Santa was dressed in red, white and black it matched very well with the colours of the Coca Cola label.

It doesn’t seem a good idea to me. Can you imagine a company using Mother Theresa to advertise orange juice? I guess if Coca Cola used Santa to sell orange juice then his name would be changed to ‘Fanta Claus’!

But Santa was very successful at selling Coke, and many other companies used Santa to sell their products until the 1960s.

So the Coca Cola Corporation put Santa in red? No, I was wrong. There are many Santa pictures from well before this time which show Santa in a red and white suit, with a black belt.


The picture above is by Thomas Nast in 1869 (before Coca Cola was invented), and it is thought that he was the first person to dress Santa in red.


This picture was drawn in 1908 by E Boyd Smith and shows Santa in the same suit as we see him now, and with a very long white beard.

But all this happened in the USA. The rest of the world got to see Santa in a bright red suit when they saw all the Coca Cola commercials. So, even though the artist Thomas Nast gave Santa his first red suit, we can be pretty certain that the Coca Cola commercials made sure that Santa will always be in red.


When does the Xmas season start?

In a comment from Miyuki (I hate X’mas) she asked if I had decorated my Christmas tree. The answer is ‘Yes’. But I wondered if I was late or early, so I did some research to find out when the Christmas season really starts.

If you went to London or New York right now you would find the shops full of Christmas cards, decorations and gifts, and the food-stores would have lots of Christmas food and drink. The streets would be covered in Christmas lights and there would be Christmas trees everywhere. In the shops Christmas starts in October! Surely the Christmas season doesn’t start then, that’s almost 3 months before Christmas Day.

So, when does Christmas start, and when should I decorate my tree?

As you know Christmas Day is December 25th, when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, which was about 2,000 years ago. Before Christmas Christians prepare for the ‘coming’ of Christ, and this ‘coming’ is known as Advent.

Advent starts on the nearest Sunday to November 30th (St Andrew’s Day), which is December 3rd this year (and December 2nd next year).

Advent wreaths are very popular with some families, and these have four candles. Three candles are purple, symbolizing hope, peace and love, and one candle is rose, symbolizing joy. The candles are lit on the four Sundays of Advent. Sometimes there is a fifth candle, which is placed in the centre of the wreath. This is white and is lit on Christmas Day.

So the Christmas season starts on December 3rd this year, and this is the date we should start displaying our Christmas decorations. But my children couldn’t wait, and we have been displaying our Christmas tree since last week-end.