Simple English Listening

E17: A History Of Santa Claus. Who Is He? (Pre-Intermediate English)

November 29, 2020 Tristan Palumbo
Simple English Listening
E17: A History Of Santa Claus. Who Is He? (Pre-Intermediate English)
Simple English Listening
E17: A History Of Santa Claus. Who Is He? (Pre-Intermediate English)
Nov 29, 2020
Tristan Palumbo

Learn new vocabulary and the Santa story. The video with subtitles, pictures and definitions is here:

Here, I speak in SIMPLE English about exciting topics. The best way to learn is to listen to as much English as possible which is ONE level above your level. This way you pick up maximum amounts of new language and pronunciation naturally.

These podcasts are for pre-intermediate, intermediate and upper-intermediate learners. 

My name is Tristan, from England. I'm a native speaker and I've been a qualified English teacher for nearly 10 years and taught in five countries - UK, Italy, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam. I have post-graduate qualifications in education and English-teaching. 

Show Notes Transcript

Learn new vocabulary and the Santa story. The video with subtitles, pictures and definitions is here:

Here, I speak in SIMPLE English about exciting topics. The best way to learn is to listen to as much English as possible which is ONE level above your level. This way you pick up maximum amounts of new language and pronunciation naturally.

These podcasts are for pre-intermediate, intermediate and upper-intermediate learners. 

My name is Tristan, from England. I'm a native speaker and I've been a qualified English teacher for nearly 10 years and taught in five countries - UK, Italy, South Korea, Japan and Vietnam. I have post-graduate qualifications in education and English-teaching. 

Hello English learners from around the world.

Today, we'll learn who Santa Claus is. Where does he come from and what's his story? Santa Claus is based on a real man - St. Nicholas.

And, we'll learn lots of festive Christmas vocabulary at the same time,

vocabulary including: reindeer, chimney, miracle, stocking, overweight, coal, maniac, cathedral, whip, jolly and donation

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Today we learn about the big man, Saint Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Papa Noel - a man with hundreds of names around the world, the most famous being Santa Claus. Who was he? Was he real? If you are listening to this with your children, perhaps listen to this another time.

Infact, he is! How did a holy man from the 4th century in Turkey become the big, jolly laughing man with a big white beard, dressed in red and white who lives in the North Pole? The legend of Santa Claus is always evolving, always developing. In his current most popular form, he flies in the sky on a sleigh which is filled with enough presents to give every child in the whole world and the sleigh is pulled by nine flying reindeer. The reindeer at the front is called Rudolph and has a magic red nose which is used as a light to guide the sleigh in the dark and fog.

Unlike before, now Santa has become very big. He's overweight ('overweight' is a more polite word for 'fat'). He's overweight because on Christmas Eve, children leave out cookies for him and a glass of milk and some carrots for the reindeer. Well, my parents made us leave out these snacks and we weren't the only children requested to do that. It was the same for all our friends. Turns out, everyone's father just ate them and become more overweight himself.

So, the legend goes, Santa flies to every child's house and lands quietly on their roofs. He goes down the chimney which is  usually three times thinner than he is, without a sound so there is a magical aspect to him. Once he's gone down the chimney and comes out the fireplace, he then leaves toys in the stockings which are hanging above the fireplace, one stocking for each child and he leaves presents under the tree. In France, he leaves presents in people's shoes! The legend is a little different in every culture.  Then, he eats the cookies, drinks the milk and buzzes off to the next house! 

Of course, you only get presents if your name is on the nice list! If your name is on the naughty list, forget about it! If you've behaved badly, then you get a lump of coal, which is the burnt black rock that people used to power trains, old steam trains with - 'coal'.

When he finishes his trip around the world, he rides the flying sleigh back to the North Pole where he lives (the North Pole is the at the very top of the Earth). He lives there in a town full of elves! 'Elves' are, as you may know, the fantastical mythical creatures that are shorter humans, about this high maybe. I've never met but I guess about this high, with long, pointy ears that live for a very very long time. Well, I think in Lord Of The Rings, elves are immortal, right? They live for a very long time and never die of age. Santa's elves are usually dressed in green probably because it looks nice with red - being opposite colors on the color wheel and the elves make the children's toys. They are expert toy-makers and they do that throughout the year, ready for next Christmas.

In Austria and the UK, instead of milk, people leave out beer for Santa, which means he'd drink millions of beers in one night! So, I naturally wonder how he would feel on Christmas morning. Or a sherry! In Ireland they leave out the famous Guinness - their famous black beer. Interestingly, many aspects of Santa Claus came from Odin, the most powerful of the pagan Norse and Viking gods which were widely popular and worshiped in northern Europe before Christianity arrived. 

Many aspects of Odin may have been given to Santa Claus. For Odin, children would also leave out food and drink, who would in return, Odin would leave candy and food for the children. Odin would fly around on a war horse with eight legs, a bit like the eight original reindeer of Santa's ('Rudolph' was added as the ninth later on). Odin would have a long white beard and a blue cloak. Santa Claus was originally dressed in blue in some European cultures. Also, Odin would have two ravens (ravens are black birds that are extremely intelligent, as intelligent as chimpanzees and dolphins). Odin would have two ravens that sat outside people's houses and listened to their conversations to see if they were naughty or nice, a bit like Santa's naughty or nice lists.

When I was a kid, I thought Santa was just the most amazing guy, a caring figure of kindness and goodness. I'd try to stay awake to meet Santa but I never could. My parents were very skilled at walking lightly and leaving our Christmas presents without waking up my two sisters and myself. In the morning you know, we'd wake up at like 5am, run around the house like maniacs ('maniacs' = crazy people), wake up my parents, have breakfast as quick as possible then open the presents. Something my mother did which was very sweet was, half the presents were labelled as being from various family members and half of them had a small white note on them saying simply 'from Santa'.

Santa Claus is based on a real man - St Nicholas, was a Greek man. (from Greece). He was born in the Roman Empire around 280 AD in the town of Myra, which is in modern-day Turkey. Rather than the jolly, laughing, happy Santa we see today, St. Nicholas was a deeply religious, fiery, defiant and passionate man. A fierce defender of Christianity during the great persecution. The Great Persecution was a time when the Romans burned bibles and made Christian priests give up (quit) their religion or be executed (be killed). When they found the skull of the real St Nicholas they could see his nose was badly broken. During the Great Persecution, there was lots of violence against Christians.

Nicholas spent many years in prison (in jail) until AD 313 when the Christian persecution was ended by Roman emperor Constantine. 

St. Nicholas became known for being a protector (a defender) not just of Christianity, but of all children and orphans ('orphans' are children with no parents - 'orphans'). As well as orphans, he is also a protector of sailors, prisoners and many other types of people. Some say he performed miracles ('miracles' are surprising and supernatural events that cannot be explained by science, such as Jesus walking on water). As well as miracles, Nicholas healed people and in some parts of the world he is still celebrated as St Nicholas - separate to his Christmas connection. One of these places is the city of Bari in the south if Italy. It is here, in the biggest cathedral (the biggest church) in Bari where his bones are kept. I've seen his grave when I visited there! His grave is just outside of the cathedral. There's a stone with 'here lies Nicholas, blah blah blah' - here's a picture of it! The legend is that his bones release a watery and clear liquid that can perform miracles, can heal people and smells like rose water.

St. Nicholas is in fact the most popular saint who is not in the Bible stories. Over 2000 churches are dedicated to him in France and Germany and over 400 in England. Worldwide, artists have painted Nicholas more than any other saint besides saint Mary, Jesus's mother!

Two stories that helped Nicholas get the reputation as a protector of people. One time, as a young priest, he saved three girls from a life of prostitution by using his own money to pay the father the dowries (a 'dowry' is the money that is paid to the father of a woman before her wedding in some cultures). Another story is that Nicholas entered an inn (a pub/hotel restaurant) and the owner had just murdered three boys and put their dead bodies in barrels downstairs and was serving the boy's as meat, as ham to their customers. Shocked, Nicholas realized it was not ham on his plate, but human flesh. He found the boy's bodies and resurrected them! ('Resurrected', to resurrect means to bring something dead back to life! For example, some people believe that Jesus was resurrected). Well, St Nicholas resurrected the three boys, so the legend goes. And they were vegetarians for the rest of their lives, which is quite funny! I guess ('vegetarians' = they would not eat meat, only vegetables)

In the medieval age between 1200 - 1500, inspired by old European Gods such as Odin and Saturn, St Nicholas started to have a white beard and magical powers such as the power of flight. Around this time, children's Christmas gifts were given by baby Jesus himself but of course a baby can't carry a lot, right? A baby's got short arms, a baby's only about this big. So, baby Jesus was given a sidekick (a helper). This sidekick had names which translated as Rough Nicholas and Furry Nicholas and he was a little bit scary. He would threaten children to behave well or they'd be punished. Sometimes, this scary sidekick was half demon or half goat. If children behaved, they were given presents, if not, there would be punishments such as whipping ('whipping' where you use a whip, to whip a child) or kidnapping (taking the child away by force, in the middle of the night) - Yes, it was quite dark. It sounds very medieval.

After the medieval period, we had the Renaissance period in Europe. By this time, St. Nicholas had become the most popular saint in all of Europe - especially in Holland (The Netherlands).

It was the immigrants from Holland that first brought legends of the scary, bearded Christmas gift bringer to America! Actually, the name 'Santa Claus' comes from Dutch (the language of the Netherlands). In Dutch they say 'Sinter Klaas', which is a shorter form of St. Nicholas. It was these early Dutch immigrants to New York that had with them wood carvings of St. Nicholas with stockings filled with toys and fruit in the background.

Around this time, Christmas Day celebrations had become just a big wild outdoor alcohol-fueled community party and some more Christian communities in America, they just stopped celebrating Christmas because it had became too wild and too much like Saturnalia the Roman pagan festival on the 25th December that Christmas had replaced. 

By the way, please tell us in the comments, what's the biggest yearly celebration in your country or the one you enjoy the most? What does it celebrate and what happens in it?

During the 19th century, there was a move to make Christmas more of a family holiday, especially thanks to American writers and poets mostly from New York, a place in which Nicholas was the patron saint of.

The first time we see Santa Claus in his more modern and recognizable form is in the 1809 book 'The History of New York', where we see a pipe-smoking Nicholas flying over rooftops in a wagon and giving gifts to well-behaved children. A poem in 1821 called 'The Children's Friend' added one reindeer pulling a sleigh and Santa dressed in fur. Then, 1822's 'A Visit From St. Nicholas' showed Santa as a bit overweight and as a jolly, kind man with now eight reindeer pulling the sleigh. From the 1840s, newspapers started using the newly-popular Santa Claus to advertise Christmas shopping and many shopping malls would attract customers by having a 'live' Santa that the kids could visit, sit on his lap, tell him what they want for Christmas etc.. By the early 1890s, the Salvation Army (a very famous charity that helps poor people), the Salvation Army would dress their employees in Santa costumes to walk around New York trying to collect donations to make meals for poor families (a 'donation' is money that is given to a charity or given for a good cause). Still, today, you can still see the Salvation Army Santa's walking around New York, asking people for donations around Christmas time.

By this time, Santa's personality had become caring, grandfatherly and jolly ('jolly', meaning, somebody who is happy and likes to laugh and can light up a room and makes people feel happy and comfortable - 'jolly'). He now lived in the North Pole, had a reindeer-driven sleigh and encouraged children to behave well. Coca Cola first started using Santa Claus in their advertisements in 1931, showing a jolly man, with twinkling eyes and laughter lines and drinking Coca Cola! This advertising campaign very much popularized today's Santa Claus. This same advertising campaign still happens today! In many western countries, you know it's Christmas because on the TV, the screen lights up with Santa drinking 'the real thing' - Coca Cola.

This Americanized Santa Claus became the worldwide standard. Older European forms of Santa such as Christkind and the earlier Kris Kringle started getting replaced by him.

The Americanized red and white Santa especially gained popularity worldwide after World War 2, perhaps symbolizing peace and kindness and the American effort in helping countries in Europe re-build after being destroyed in World War 2.

Nowadays, Santa symbolizes the more celebrating, gift-giving and consumer side of Christmas and Jesus represents the more religious side of Christmas (Christmas celebrates Jesus's birthday, in case you didn't know). 

According to Eurostat, in my country, in the UK, 53% of people are Christian and 40% of people are agnostic or atheist (which means they don't know or don't believe in religion) but all of these people who are, especially ethnically British, still celebrate Christmas as a time to spend with family. So you will see St. Nicholas on the walls, on the decorations, in the tree and children will still receive presents from him, regardless of their religious beliefs - Christian or not Christian. And around east Asia where I've lived, in S.Korea, Japan and Vietnam - in December you see Santa everywhere too! They love Santa here! Actually, Christmas in Japan and Korea is more of a couple's holiday, like a second Valentine's Day and in Japan, everybody eats KFC at Christmas - Kentucky Fried Chicken and you'll see lines of people down the street, out the door of KFC and down the street, some wearing Santa hats, waiting for their bucket of chicken. It's interesting eh? It took me by surprise when I lived in Japan, I thought it was quite something. Many of the Korean and Vietnamese kids I work with here will receive gifts from Santa at Christmas so Santa has gone global - he's become an international sensation! To some degree.

Some say he represents greed and consumerism. On the other hand, some people believe he is a positive influence, inspiring children to be good and kind and that it helps their imagination and their ability to think of possibilities and potential. 

What do you think? Is Santa a positive or a negative force for society? Tell us in the comments! Have an amazing December everyone, whatever you do and Merry Christmas if that's what you do!  Thank you so much for watching! See you next time!