Soon, Santa Claus will sneak down the chimney with presents to all good children, with a jolly “Ho, ho, ho!” That's all fine. But what's with that big white beard?
The myth about that jolly fellow evolved in the 19th century, as did the image of him. According to Wikipedia, it sort of started in 1823 with a poem by Clement Clarke Moore, A Visit from St. Nicholas. It can be found in its original version here. The first few lines read:
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there
It contains all the now well-known components – the reindeer, the chimney, the toys to the children, and so on.
|Santa Claus, by Thomas Nast 1863.|
|Santa Claus, by Thomas Nast 1881.|
|Santa Claus, by Haddon Sundblom.|
Starting from the top, there's the traditional Christian image of God. When given human features, he always gets an impressive beard, not at all that far from Santa's.
|God, by Michelangelo.|
|Marduk chasing Tiamat.|
Since ancient times, the beard is a sign of maturity and authority, maybe also of power. Jesus, son of a carpenter, walked among common men like one of them, and was no older than 33 when he was executed – an unthinkable fate for a man of senior power. Had his beard been longer, he might have been spared...
A legendary example of the link between hair and power is that of Samson, who loses his phenomenal strength when his hair is cut, by trickery of the beautiful Delilah. Although the bible text doesn't seem to say so, I'd like to think that his beard was also cut in the process. His beard must have been the hair holding his power.
|Samson and Delilah, by Rubens.|
Santa Claus sure needs a lot of power for the fantastic feat he performs every Christmas, bringing presents to all the children of the world who have not been too naughty. He needs that beard. Without it, he would not accomplish much and we would sit by the chimneys, waiting and waiting for nothing.
So, praise the beard guaranteeing a very merry Christmas!