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Different Santa Clauses across world join together into mainstream figure

If you were to meet the Santa Claus of the past, you would find an unmarried, slim religious man living in Europe.

Far from a jolly round man with a long white beard who dresses in red, the historic characteristics of the Christmas figure are unfamiliar to the current conception.

This is not surprising, said Natalie Kononenko, associate professor of Slavic language and literature, because pagan tradition slowly has invaded what was once a predominantly Christian holiday.

Kononenko said the idea of Santa Claus originated from an actual man, Saint Nicholas, who was the patron saint of children. He had none of the characteristics that people identify him with today. Saint Nicholas was not married, did not deliver gifts under an evergreen tree and was not a plump man. Instead, these additional traits --dealing with fertility, magic and food -- most likely were derived from agrarian pagan rituals that centered on the Winter Solstice, Kononenko said.

"All of these have more to do with magic and fertility than the real saint," she said.

The Santa Claus tradition has several variants. Russians have a parallel figure in Father Frost, who is remembered during the New Year season. Other Indo-European countries celebrate figures similar to Saint Nicholas, Kononenko said.

Whatever these variations may be however, there has been a convergence of Santa Clauses in contemporary times.

"What a lot of people have complained about is that Christmas has grown more secular," Kononenko said.

Nevertheless, this has not deterred children around the world from sending letters, e-mails and wish lists to the figure identified today as the jolly old father of Christmas.

"The desire to believe in Santa Claus has grown. There have been loads more of movies and television shows showing this need. We want to believe," said Jeannette Lacoss, a lecturer in the Faculty Resource Center.

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