Posted by Jake Bourdeau

John Wolcott, aka Santa and Matt Wolcott’s father, has a 38-year career in clausmanship. He is a sitting recycled (2 times) Rotary Club President of his East Greenwich, RI club. Mr. Wolcott presented both facts and/or folklore about his research on St. Nick, which is the precursor to Santa Claus, and other regional beliefs.

Mr. Wolcott discussed Nordic gods, to Christian saints, to Coca Cola through the various sagas, folklore, and documented history. While he presented his research about Christmas and the associated holidays, he said that it is up to us to determine what was history and what was folklore. 

Many of the European countries have slightly different stories, but all generally have a similar theme. Additionally, not all countries talk of jolly old men at Christmas, for instance: 

- Oden, the Nordic God of War, rides with his chariot and two horses called Thunder and Lightning (aka Donner and Blitzen, in German);  

- the Romans celebrated Saturnalia for the God of Saturn;

- In France, Pere Noel is popular;

- Befana in Italy, who is an elderly woman giving gifts on the eve of Epiphany;

- Jultomten in Scandinavia watches kids from under their stairs and gives presents to those that behave; and,

- St. Nicklaus, who was born in Asia Minor (Turkey at the time) to a wealthy family and became a bishop and was known to be very generous and kind. 

Most of the stories of St. Nicklaus (St. Nick) seem to mimic some current understanding of Santa Claus. St. Nick was born to wealthy merchants who died by plague around 280 AD. His uncle took him under his wing, and St. Nick was then educated across Western Europe. St. Nick became a priest and then a bishop. He was known for his generosity to sailors and children, where St. Nick would offer shelter and food. In one story about St. Nick, he was helping three sisters who had lost their father, but still wanted to marry. To grow their dowry, he was said to secretly drop gold coins down their chimney or into their drying stockings or shoes.  It was said, that the Italians sailors loved St. Nick so much, that in approximately 1100 AD they moved his casket from Turkey to Italy when Christianity was in jeopardy there, and they heard that the casket could possibly be destroyed. 

What we largely think about Santa Claus comes from a poem written by poet Clement Clark Moore: “Twas the night before Christmas.” In more recent times, it seems that the red suit, jovial attitude, and big white beard may have come from the 1930s era Coca Cola ad, which the company was trying to promote cola sales through the slow winter months. Something caught on there.

No matter whether folklore, history, or the truth was being told, one could tell that John Wolcott had the Christmas and Rotary spirit.

(Photo L-R: John & Donna Wolcott (Matt's parents), Matt Wolcott and President John Curran.)