It began with a poem written in 1822 by Clement Clark Moore:
“…He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of Toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.
His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread…”
From that day on, the world would have the mental image of the jolly old elf etched in their brain. That poem forever transformed a revered archbishop from the middle east into the great toy maker of the north. Yes, indeed I am referring to Santa Claus himself. The poem that changed the course of history around Christmas time was Moore’s classic Twas the Night Before Christmas. Before Moore’s unforgettable poem, the man kids know today as Santa Claus was a much different person. Yet, while the jolly inhabitant of the North Pole has tickled the fantasies of children worldwide for centuries, there is also a lot of truth backing up this iconic face of folklore.
Santa Claus has endured many persecutions from the church throughout the years. Much like the misconception of the X in Xmas, Santa Claus has taken the proverbial beating by the devout across many Christian factions over the years. And just like the misconceptions about Xmas, I would like to clear up some of those misconceptions, not because I want to shoot down people’s attempts to defend their faith, but because I want them to have the proper and correct education on the matter. The person who is armed with the most information proves to be an admirable foe. So, tonight I want to spend a few minutes picking apart the man that became Santa Claus, the myth that turned him into a toy maker from the North, and how both stories have turned him into a legend the world over.
The biggest complaint that Santa receives, particularly from the Christian community is that he takes the focus of Christmas off of Christ. This is probably the most ironic of all the conflicts. You see, the real Santa Claus, was St. Nicholas who grew up in present day Turkey. He was born in the 3rd century to devoutly Christian parents that raised him to love and fear the Lord. A plague wiped out many in his hometown at a young age, including his parents. His parent’s spiritual heritage was likely from the apostle Paul himself as he was in the area a mere 200 years before on his third missionary journey. Nicholas inherited a large fortune and determined to help people with the blessings he had been given by the Lord. Known for his kindness, charity, and generosity, he was made the Archbishop of Myra early in his 20’s. Now, I mentioned it was ironic that he is persecuted by Christians, well that is because it would be nothing new to St. Nicholas. While he was archbishop, he was persecuted and likely thrown in jail by the Roman Emperor Diocletian (a notorious persecutor of Christians) for his beliefs.
The name Santa Claus that has adorned itself to St. Nicolas is the English variation of the Dutch name for St. Nicholas which is Sinterklaas. Depictions of Sinterklaas as the archbishop show him dressed in the typical red robes of the bishop and the long flowing white beard- all typical vestments of the archbishop. This was a man sworn to a life of serving Christ, not a pagan replacement for the Christ child. In fact the German word for Christ Child is………Kriss Kringle. It was not until Moore’s description of Santa Claus was published in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas that we get the imagery of the chubby and plump Santa.
As far as the gift giving goes, St. Nicholas was known for giving gifts to those who could not afford things, often leaving coins in shoes sitting outside the house. These gifts were usually given anonymously. After his death on December 6, 343, a tradition of gift giving began in his memory. Eventually, America, among other countries merged this holiday with Christmas. While this has prompted a backlash from ultra conservative Christians, the marriage of the two seem natural to most as the greatest gift ever given mankind in the form of Jesus Christ was given to us and is celebrated at this time of year.
Today, Santa has devolved into a mainly secular icon of Christmas without much tie to Christianity. This is probably due to the secular world not wanting to admit the connection between St. Nicholas and Christ, and many of the Christian community trying to sever that very connection condemning Santa as pagan (even rearranging the letters in his name to spell Satan). In the end, nothing can change the history behind the man that Santa Claus was based on. The Archbishop of Myra went out of his way to help others and bring joy & happiness to as many people as possible. He gave generously and he gave anonymously- yet another Godly trait about St. Nicholas as Matthew Chapter 6 reminds us:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Maybe there is more to the Santa guy after all.
In Christ Alone,
Rev. Bro. Coach
Angie Mosteller: http://www.celebratingholidays.com/?page_id=1582.
‘Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clark Moore (excerpted) accessed at: http://www.carols.org.uk/twas_the_night_before_christmas.htm