Our Santa Claus

A few days ago we received a Greek book whose title translates to Our Santa Claus. Already on the cover we saw the big difference between the sleek figure from Santa Claus in the ads with the red suit and the sleigh with the reindeer.

In our new festive article, then, we will get to know our Santa Claus through the book Our Santa Claus by Patakis Publishers, we will learn the history of Santa Claus in Europe and America and we will make the vasilopita of Eat Dessert First Greece to welcome 2021! Vasilopita is a sweet bread or cake with a lucky coin hidden inside that is traditionally consumed on New Year’s Day.

We warmly thank Patakis Publishers for the wonderful book they sent us!
The vasilopita of Eat Dessert First Greece for 2021!

The book Our Santa Claus by Vangelis Iliopoulos is a sweet story… When the parents of a family are forced to leave for the city, they leave their children alone at home. Winter is heavy and food and wood for the fireplace are scarce. The children beg God to melt the snow, bring the parents back and bring food and gifts. A visitor appears instead. “I am a passing traveler, my child, and I need a little warmth,” he tells them. It was New Year’s Eve.

Our Santa Claus… A book with a warm, moving and sweet illustration

Through the narration of the visitor we learn how the custom of the lucky coin in vasilopita started … “Listen” said the visitor. “Once in my area, Cappadocia, a money-loving prefect came. So he imposed such high taxes that people would never be able to pay them. I thought then and collected all their belongings, jewelry, gold, coins. I took them with me and went to this prefect. I told him “Yes, take the lifelong belongings of these people, deprive them of everything and they will never forget that their lives were ruined because of you”. I told him more and finally made him understand his mistake. He asked me to return them all. But how can I return the jewelry to their owners? People, when they have to share wealth, never agree and discord finds an opportunity and gets between them. I then made sweet pies, put in what everyone had given me and shared them. No one complained. Everyone got what they needed.” (Excerpt from the book translated by Eat Dessert First Greece)

A Santa Claus very different from those we are used to…

And this is how the custom of the lucky coin in vasilopita was born. Our Santa Claus is a real person, Saint Basil the Great, who celebrates on the 1st of January. As we have learned, Saint Basil built the famous Vasiliada, a complex with a poorhouse, orphanage, nursing home, hotel, hospital and more, where thousands of patients, regardless of age, gender and race, found refuge. Vangelis Iliopoulos’ book, in addition to the meanings of faith, offering and solidarity that it passes on to its young and old readers, is also an occasion to reconsider how we experience Christmas. Is Christ really born in our hearts or are we immersed in a consuming mania with lights, food and gifts?

Saint Basil the Great (source)

Another Saint is associated with Christmas. The ancestor of today’s Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas was born in the Mediterranean during the Roman Empire. His legend evolved in Northern Europe and took its final form in America. Let’s look at some facts about its evolution with the help of National Geographic…

On December 6, the memory of Saint Nicholas is celebrated in many countries around the world, especially in Europe. The Saint in his various depictions does not look at all like the jolly Santa Claus with the red cheeks we know today. In addition to his various icons, technology has managed to make an image of his face based on the saint’s skull and bones and with assumptions about elements such as the color of his skin and gray hair.

Icons of Saint Nicholas and in the top middle his technological simulation (source)

We read that Saint Nicholas was born in 270 in Patara, Lycia, to rich and pious parents. He was an educated man, who gave all his property to the poor and was ordained a priest. He fought for the spread of the Christian faith and protected the weak and the wronged. When he ascended the archbishopric throne of Myra in Lycia, this angered the pagans, who imprisoned and tortured him. He was released after the rise of Constantine the Great and continued his pastoral work.

Saint Nicholas (source)

The life of Saint Nicholas was directly connected with the children. We learned that when a father intended to corrupt his daughters in order to obtain money, Saint Nicholas secured the girls’ dowry within three nights and saved them from corruption.

From 1200 to 1500 Saint Nicholas brought the gifts on his feast on December 6. The image of the saint was influenced by European gods, figures with long white beards and magical powers such as flying. After the Protestant Reformation in Northern Europe, saints such as Saint Nicholas became less popular. Thus arose the problem of who would bring the gifts to the children. On many occasions they linked gifts to the Divine Infant and the celebration moved to Christmas. The Divine Infant, however, was too small to carry gifts and inappropriate to threaten children who were not nice. So he was given a terrifying helper.

From the illustration of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol

Some of these terrifying German helpers had an appearance influenced by Saint Nicholas. These characters expected good behavior from the children, otherwise they threatened them with beatings and kidnappings. The Dutch, however, refused to abandon Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas) as the one who brought the gifts. Coming as settlers to America, they brought Sinterklaas with them. But in America at the time, the celebration did not look like today. Instead it was an open-air celebration of the whole community, consuming alcohol. Something similar happened in England.

All this changed at the beginning of the 19th century. Poets and writers struggled to make Christmas a family holiday, bringing back Saint Nicholas. In an illustrated anonymous poem of 1821 we have the appearance of Santa Claus. He kept the magical distribution of gifts from Saint Nicholas, but removed all religious elements and dressed him in the furs of German helpers. His sleigh was dragged by a reindeer. In 1822 in the poem “The night before Christmas” the cheerful Santa Claus rides a sleigh with eight friendly reindeer. During the 19th century Santa Claus comes in a variety of looks, with different sizes and colors of clothes. At the end of the 19th century Santa Claus has established himself as a full-size adult, dressed in red with white furs, starting from the North Pole in a sleigh pulled by reindeer and overseeing children’s behavior.

Santa Claus by Thomas Nast, 1863
© North Wind Picture Archives (source)

Then the North American Santa Claus returned to Europe to replace the terrifying German helpers who brought the gifts. The image of the plump, happy Santa Claus evolved and consolidated from the Coca-Cola advertising campaign of 1931. We learned that from the 1920s Coca-Cola included Santa Claus in its promotional activities and therefore helped shape the image of Santa Claus. Chubby, with a white beard and red cheeks, in his red suit, an intimate image that reaches to this day.

Haddon Sundblom painting for Coca-Cola, 1940 (source)

Having learned the story of Santa Claus, we are ready to make the vasilopita of Eat Dessert First Greece! It is very easy and delicious!

Our recipe

The vasilopita of Eat Dessert First Greece

Ingredients for the vasilopita

Butter200 gr
Sugar200 gr
Orange juice240 gr
Self-raising flour500 gr
Baking powder1 tsp
Orange zest
Dried fruit

How to make Vasilopita

The first step is to chop the dried fruit. We will use plums, figs and cranberries.

Beat the butter with the sugar in the mixer until fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, waiting for each one to be absorbed before throwing the next one.

Remove the bucket from the mixer and add the orange zest, flour and baking powder. Mix well with a spatula in circular motions to make the mixture uniform.

Add the orange juice and stir. Finally add the dried fruit and the coin.

Bake in a preheated oven at 175°C for 50 minutes.

Our vasilopita with our own Santa Claus…
…and with the cheerful Santa Claus

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Shari says:

    Fascinating history – I love the fact that many cultures married the festive celebration with the principles of kindness embodied by St. Nikolaus and St. Basil.


    1. Thank you so much for reading our article and for your kind comment! We totally agree with you! Our best wishes for the New Year! 🙏🙏😊😊


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