I have heard so many disparaging things about Santa that I came to believe that it was sacrilegious just to mention his name. I think the zenith of Santaphobia was when a friend told me that if I switched one letter in Santa, I would get Satan. If you still don’t get it, just move the ‘n’ in Santa to the end of the word and ‘Walla’…you have Satan. With that bit of logic, I just knew I had better discontinue shopping wherever there was a Santa; and please don’t even think about allowing the kids to take a picture with Klaus, I mean he already has a red suit, all you need do is pin a tail on him and once again ‘Walla’…you’ve got terrible ole slew foot! Then one day it dawned on my lightening quick mind that if I used that same logic with the word dog…I would get God. Or with God…I would get dog!
You’ re probably thinking, ‘Enough of the sarcasm PDJ and get to the point.’ Ok!!
In the third century AD somewhere between 260 and 280 AD a boy named Nicholas was born into a very wealthy family in a small village named Patara; located in present day Turkey. From a young age he dedicated his life to serving God. Later, the honor of ‘Bishop of Myra’ was bestowed upon him for his piety and great generosity to the needy. He was also known for signs and wonders in answers to prayer. In addition, he confronted the worship of Diana, was imprisoned for his faith under the persecution of Diocletian, and attended the Council of Nicea to defend the faith against Arianism; contributing to the famous Nicene Creed.
However, through the centuries there were many stories attributed to Nicholas attesting to his Christian life. Of course, I’m sure many of the stories have been embellished, and some can even be categorized as ‘fish stories.’ Nevertheless, often myth is derived from fact, and I believe inspiration can be extracted from many (not all) of the historical accounts of this wonderful Christian hero.
One story tells of a very poor man, who had three daughters. Creditors were harassing him threatening to push his daughters into slavery if he did not come up with the money. Shockingly, on three occasions, the poor man found three bags of gold (or bars of gold), enough to eradicate his debts. The final time however, the poor man actually caught Nicholas in the act of throwing the bags of gold through the window (or down the chimney, depending on who tells the story). Nicholas made the man promise never to tell anyone. This led to what we now know today as secret gift giving.
In addition, the bags of gold thrown by Nicholas landed on either shoes, or socks, which were warming or drying by the fireplace. This led to our contemporary tradition of pinning stockings on the fireplace in anticipation of all kinds of goodies.
Another story tells of three students traveling to Athens. On their way they stopped at in Inn for the evening. The innkeeper robbed and murdered them. Nicholas traveling that same route, stayed at the same inn. While praying that night, God spoke to him about the murders, and in answer to Nicholas’ earnest prayers, the boys were raised from the dead.
Beginning in 1809, Washington Irving, the creator of Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hallow, began to heavily commercialize Nicholas. This final piece of the marketing transformation came in 1923 when Haddon Sundblom from Coke Cola initiated thirty-five years of advertising Santa with a red fur outfit, a long white beard, smoking a pipe.
This makeover was joined by name changes. For example, it is common to take a word from one language and add it to another: baptidzo is a Greek work that was transliterated into English as baptism. So too, we find some similar things occurring with the name Nicholas. In German Sankt Niklaus, and in Dutch Sinterklaas, which refer to Saint Nicholas, yet are very close phonetically to Santa Claus. In addition, in place of Nicholas, Martin Luther attempted to make the Christ Child into ‘ChristKindl’ the bearer of gifts, which sounds very much like Kris Kringle.
Don’t worry, I don’t expect Santa to visit me this Christmas, but neither do I believe he is Satan! I think as Christians we can use Santa as a means of sharing with our children and neighbors ‘Who’ really is buried under all that commercialization…Jesus!!
Progressiveness is looking forward intelligently, looking within critically, and moving on incessantly. WALDO PONDRAY WARREN