As Christmas Eve night fast approaches, the World is largely concerned with Santa Claus and while there is much to be learned about his history through popular culture it is rare that you hear about his biological roots in this world. Who is this Santa Claus and where does he come from? To answer these questions I have turned to an early work written by one of the few eyewitnesses of Santa’s gift giving. Twas the Night Before Christmas chronicles the tale of a young man who catches a quick glimpse of the jolly Christmas figure. The story offers an excellent description part of which never quite made sense when compared to the modern depiction of Santa. Clement Moore states upon hearing a clatter he saw “a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer with a little old driver.” We see all kinds of mall displays and movies that show Santa as a full grown man, but coming from the one person that actually saw him, we find that he is little and fits into a miniature sleigh. My eyes are opened when I read line by line of the story as I believe I know Santa’s true back story. He is in fact, a hobbit.
His height is our first clue and Tolkien clearly describes Hobbits as “little people, about half our height, and smaller than […] Dwarves” with heights “ranging between two and four feet.” Being short is not nearly enough to claim that Santa is a hobbit since he certainly could be a dwarf, a midget, or even a gnome so we will have to find other evidence if we are to pursue this further.
As soon as Moore sees Santa up close the first thing he notices is what a happy person he seems to be. “His eyes – how they twinkled! His dimples: how merry, his cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry.” Tolkien explains that Hobbits too have “good-natured faces” including such features as “red-cheeks” and “bright-eyes.” Tolkien describes that hobbits have “broad” faces with “mouths apt to laughter” and are “inclined to be fat” thanks to their hearty eating and drinking. Santa Claus likewise was “chubby and plump” with “a broad face and a little round belly that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.”
One descriptive word in Moore’s poem could throw a careless reader off, so let me point it out right now. He states that St. Nicholas was “a right jolly old elf.” You might question how Santa could be a hobbit if he is in fact an elf. Without going into a long story of the history about how elves became known to people of our time as small figures, and without also going into a long history into the beginning of hobbits, I can offer this simple explanation: Moore, thinking that elves were short, must have seen Santa’s ears, and noting that they were pointed assumed him to be an elf. J.R.R. Tolkien does explain in a letter that hobbits did have ears that were “slightly pointed and ‘elvish.'”
I must make one final note on his appearance, for I confess there is one thing about Santa that does not lend itself to the notion that he is a hobbit and that is his white as snow beard. For as you know in The Hobbit Tolkien says categorically that “Hobbits have no beards.” Admittedly this is quite the hang-up but after much contemplation I can also offer an explanation to this mystery. In the prologue to The Fellowship of the Ring a bit more detail is given concerning Hobbits, including descriptions of the three different breeds of the race. The Harfoots were the only of the three that were explicitly called “beardless.” This leads me to believe that, while rare, the Stoors or Fallowhides may have been able to grow beards and since Santa Claus has unnatural long life (perhaps a new ring was crafted in the fourth age?) it is conceivable that he could have grown a beard in all of that time. I also suspect that since Santa is somewhat more adventurous than most Hobbits he was probably of Tookish decent and therefore a Fallowhide.
Moving away from his appearance we notice another important bit of information. In his teeth he held “the stump of a pipe” and there was a cloud of smoke from said pipe “encircling his head like a wreath.” Meriadoc Brandybuck claimed that the smoking of pipe-weed was “the one art that we can certainly claim to be our (Hobbits) own invention.” Santa has had a lot of time to practice this “art” and is seen by Moore puffing a smoke-ring that encircled his head.
For children the most important aspect of Santa Claus is the gifts that he brings and we find that hobbits delight in the giving of gifts doing so on their own birthdays rather than how we give gifts now. Who knows perhaps December 25th is this Hobbit’s birthday and while religious observances of Jesus’ birth occur on this day we can probably all agree that it’s not His actual birthday. Hobbits also have “long and skillful fingers” capable of making many “useful and comely things.” Santa too would need the ability to make many things to give away which also would lead us to believe that the elves in his employ could in fact be other Hobbits who were also mistaken for elves.
There is but one final clue that Santa is a Hobbit and that is his ability to move quickly, stealthily, and almost magically. Tolkien explains that Hobbits are “nimble and deft in their movements” and while they have “never studied magic” to Men their movements may “seem magical.” This explains some of the final lines of the poem when as Santa is about to leave he lays “his finger aside of his nose and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.” Certainly as a Hobbit he was able to nimbly move up the chimney in such a way that it appeared to be magic thus adding to the aura of Santa Claus and his abilities.
I think at this point it’s safe to say that a long unsolved mystery can be put to rest. Santa’s origins come from Middle Earth, and while Hobbits are dismayed with us generally and hard to find this particular Hobbit will live on for generations in our tales of Christmas past.
Clement Moore – A Visit from St. Nicholas (http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Visit_from_St._Nicholas)
J.R.R. Tolkien – The Hobbit – p. 15-16
J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of the Ring – p. 19-22; 28-29
J.R.R. Tolkien – The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, #27