December 24, 2006

The Beard of Santa Claus


We all know that Father Christmas is originally St Nicholas- a third century Greek saint from modern Turkey, pictured by a Novgorod School medieval artist in this icon below...


This icon though still looks recognisably like Father Christmas- but this was painted centuries indeed millenia after St Nicholas died. Indeed there is no real picture of St Nicholas to be had, all the pictures we have are like this one and until the recent reconstruction of the fragments of his skull are made more exact, that's all we have. So that leaves the key question still open did Santa Claus have a beard?

Well the original models for the drawings of Father Christmas are these icons of St Nicholas and whilst we'll never know whether St Nick had a beard, its rather interesting to assess why the portraits have a beard. If you go back to when these portraits were painted, say back to the court of Ivan the Terrible in Russia, then you find Church Ordinances past against clean shaven men- why. According to Isabel de Madriaga's great biography of Ivan, there is only one reason- clean shaven men were seen as emulating women, attempting to look effeminate and as homosexual. The Church has never been too keen on what it calls the sin of Sodom and in 14th and 15th Century Russia, you'll be unsurprised tolerance of homosexuality was not at an all time high.

So it turns out that Santa Claus's beard is there for a simple reason- it signifies that he has a wife and kids back in the igloo in Lapland, and doesn't go home to the clasp of a male elf. Santa's beard is a relic of 14th Century homophobia.

Merry Christmas!

4 comments:

james higham said...

Oh dear, I don't currently have a beard.

Gracchi said...

Neither do I...

Having said that its an essential part of my identity that 14th Century ecclesiastics shall not choose my sexuality. Its something I've reasoned and thought a lot about as you can imagine but I've come to that conclusion after lots of self examination.

Merry Christmas- well now its Happy Boxing Day I suppose.

CityUnslicker said...

Santa Claus in his current format was invented by the coca-cola company in the 1930's.

Gracchi said...

Not sure about that Old Christmas occurs in a Ben Jonson play from the 17th Century "attir'd in round Hose, long Stockings, a close Doublet, a high crownd Hat with a Broach, a long thin beard, a Truncheon, little Ruffes, white Shoes, his Scarffes, and Garters tyed crosse", a seventeenth century tract the Vindication of Christmas features Father Christmas encouraging alcoholism and the celebration of Christmas. This article is rather speculative and a bit of fun though so I'm not sticking resolutely to its conclusions but the figure has an older history than Coca Cola- though I'm willing to concede that Coke solidified and universalised the tradition