Robert Kirby: Let’s delve into the history and mystery of Santa

Tribune columnist explores St. Nick’s evolution from past to present — and presents.

There were a lot of things I didn’t know about Santa Claus as a kid. My understanding then was limited to a hefty guy in a red suit, lugging a bulging sack of toys for “good” boys and girls, with little to say beyond “ho-ho-ho.”

Then I put some real effort into learning more about a guy who extorted good behavior from me at the end of every year. The term “Father Christmas” took on greater meaning.

What I learned was that Santa was born in Turkey around the same time as the Old Man (around A.D. 300) and he wandered the earth doing good, eventually becoming a Catholic saint.

Note: My father wandered the earth as well, but it was because he was drafted into the military. Although he never said so, my guess is the only things he helped put down chimneys were high explosives.

Back to Santa. One of the best stories about Santa in his early days was when he saved three sisters from being sold into prostitution by their father who didn’t want them anymore.

Santa — or St. Nick — as he became known, gave the girls a dowry so each could attract husbands.

This is the part where the early Santa history breaks down for me. Not only could he then be lauded as generous, but also as a superhero.

See, a guy interested in spreading happiness should not have just bailed out the girls, but also spared the world further evil by beating their dad into a permanent coma with a bag full of Play-Doh and Lincoln Logs.

Hey, there are times when true joy is possible only in the complete absence of evil, even if it’s only temporary.

Another note: I was probably the only kid who, in addition to being told that Santa brought gifts to well-behaved boys, was also alerted to the possibility of a bad one being snatched awake in the middle of night and having his hams flogged by a reindeer whip.

Back to Santa, his reputation eventually drifted to other parts of the world. No one is sure when transportation by sleigh came along. It was a chariot at first, then an eight-legged horse. The sleigh is probably how Santa came to America.

Most people in America today are familiar with being visited by the jolly old elf. The only problem is Santa can sometimes be confused with Jesus.

Makes sense. The birth of the Savior of the world just happens to coincide with Santa making his rounds. They both have a reputation for bringing joy to the world.

The primary difference is the part about getting our backsides burned. Unlike Santa, Jesus is actually supposed to do this. All the bad little boys and girls (and their grown equivalents) will get coal — lighted and stuffed down the rear of their pants — for eternity.

Many of you probably didn’t know all this, but it’s not too late to learn. There are only a few days left until Christmas. From years of experience, I can tell you that’s plenty of time to change your act.

Robert Kirby is The Salt Lake Tribune’s humor columnist. Follow Kirby on Facebook.