THE EVOLUTION OF AN ICON Santa Claus, called Noel Baba (Father Christmas) is big here in Turkey. St Nicholas himself was Bishop of Myra, down on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast. A benevolent leader, he gave all his money to the poor, hiding dowries in the shoes of impoverished virgins to save their pride, which comes to us as the tradition of Christmas stockings. St Nicholas is huge all over Europe. Think of all those Greeks named Nick, not to mention the Russian- Czar Nicholas comes to mind. Here’s one of many Russian icons of him.
At some point, he became mixed with Lapland myths of tall, fur-suited Father Christmas who lived with reindeer in the snow. Vikings were in Istanbul, the Varangians, the Emperor’s honor guard, all seven-footers with blond braids: Here’s their graffiti in Hagia Sophia. Is it a stretch to imagine that’s when the mix began? But worlds DO collide here…could it be?
Victorian Clement Clark Moore turned Father Christmas / St Nicholas into “a right jolly old elf” in his iconographic (!) poem The Night Before Christmas. And in 1930, Coca-Cola hired Norwegian-American illustrator Haddon Sundblom to depict St Nick for their ads in the Saturday Evening Post. These became the prototype for Santa Claus as we know him today.
Justinian undoubtedly included icons of St Nicholas in Hagia Sophia. After all, he built the church at Myra in memory of the 3rd-Century saint.
SLEIGH BELLS STILL RINGING As the snow whirls in the darkness outside and the wind howls up over the mouth of the Bosporus, Chinese-manufactured Santas rock their hips down in Kumkapi while tourists eat Bosporus fish. A few years ago, they told us that the Mayan Calendar was about to run out. Projected human history was ending, as the Calendar only runs until 2012. Surely the world was going to end as well!
Since the beginning of recorded history, people have been crying that the world is going to end any minute. We’re years into After the Mayan Calendar. We may be flying blind, but we’re still flying. The Grinch is still around — Christmas lights are now forbidden in Myra as anti-Islam– but so is Santa Claus. Try and eradicate Santa Claus. The world clearly needs a symbol of cheer in the darkness, of good living, of unity, for Santas appear everywhere in every medium, from cheap synthetic to solid gold. The world looks on, smiles, stuffs its stockings. Once again, Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
All drawings plein air ©Trici Venola from the Drawing On Istanbul project. WE LOVE YOUR COMMENTS.