Santa Claus and Wedding Gifts


Written by Joseph Dunsay. After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. Find more Jewrotica writing by Joseph here.

Rated PG-13

As many Easter Orthodox Christians prepare for Christmas, this is a good time to consider the original St. Nicholas and the marriage customs of his neighbors. Born in modern Turkey near the end of the 3rd Century CE, Santa Claus fiercely defended Christian doctrine during the Great Persecution in 303 when Romans burned Bibles and made priests choose between execution and renouncing their faith. He became famous for giving bags of gold to a father so that he could pay his daughter’s dowries and other great acts.

Dowries, and to a lesser extent brideprices, have been common in many societies throughout history. An economics paper analyzed traditional dowries and prideprices on a global scale. Customs in the Greco-Roman world and Ancient Israel regarding dowries and brideprices put Santa Claus’s generosity in context. Wealth given as part of the marriage process provided financial security to the spouse entering a new home and/or compensated for the perceived imbalanced in the contributions each spouse made to the new household. Compared to societies that expect dowries, societies that expect brideprices tend to be more rural, less populous, less socially stratified, more reliant on women’s labor, and more numerous.

The paper mentions that brideprices were the norm in Ancient Israel but dowries were the norm in Ancient Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire. Israelis transitioned from brideprices to dowries as the Israeli economy developed, and the Roman expulsion of Jews from Israel in 70 CE hastened this trend. German tribes that settled Europe after Rome’s decline held by brideprices. Europe went back to dowries in the Middle Ages, and even Mediterranean Jews paid dowries during the late Middle Ages. Dowries remained the norm in the Byzantine Empire until it was replaced by the Ottoman Empire where brideprices were customary.

When viewed in light of these changing social norms, Santa Claus’s charity to pay for dowries was a way to affirm the value of daughters at a time when Romans demanded payments from a bride’s family. His donations went against the Jewish trend of adopting Roman marriage norms. The lyrics of Aishes Chayil describe a Jewish wife as an active partner who contributes to a household, and the history of Tisha B’Av is a warning about divisions within a nation that create separate societies without any mutual cousins. By providing donations to make marriage possible for low-income brides, Santa Claus worked around the Byzantine regulations that denied family life to impoverished residents.

After earning a Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolution, Joseph Dunsay became a science writer for international audiences. His LGBT erotic e-book launched in the summer of 2015.