Perhaps the most prolific traveler of the season is none other than Old Saint Nick himself. In order to deliver presents to an estimated 800 million households across the world in one evening, he must travel more than 5 million kilometers per hour.
While an especially American phenomenon, Santa Claus has roots throughout Europe. Saint Nicholas of Myra, now a part of Turkey, was a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop who was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, and people still hang stockings at the chimney in his name.
Odin, the Norse god, would ride his flying horse, Sleipnir, and reward children for their kindness with gifts or candy. In The Netherlands and Belgium, Sinterklaas is aided by helpers commonly known as Zwarte Piet. The first depiction of a roly-poly jolly old fellow is through Britain in the 17th century as Father Christmas, typifying the spirit of good cheer, and was reflected as the “Ghost of Christmas Present” in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In America, Sinterklaas was first Americanized into “Santa Claus” in 1773.
His modern image is due in large part to Thomas Nast, an American cartoonist of the 19th century, and the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” which appeared in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823, written by Clement Clarke Moore.
Whereas children of yore may have been nestled all snug in their beds while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads, today’s laptop and wireless enabled kids can track Santa’s whereabouts using NORAD’s Santa Tracker. For over 50 years, they have tracked Santa’s Christmas Eve flight. The tradition began in 1955 after a Colorado Springs-based Sears Roebuck & Co. advertisement for children to call Santa misprinted the telephone number. Instead of reaching Santa, the phone number put kids through to the NORAD operations “hotline.” The Director at the time, Colonel Harry Shoup, had his staff check the radar for indications of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. Tonight, children can follow Santa on his journey using Google Earth, updated every 5 minutes.