If old Saint Nick could see how Jesus’ birthday is celebrated today, he might roll over in his grave.
Christmas, many will say, is a time for giving, a sharing time with family and for thinking about our fellow man. We should be doing that stuff all the time anyway. But with all that, isn’t Christmas supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, even though it may not be his actual birth date?
So what’s the deal with Santa Claus stealing Jesus’ thunder? In Oak Park, the pastor of Calvary Memorial Church recently hosted a series of sermons on the meaning of Christmas, which concluded Christmas Eve.
Pastor Todd Wilson began the series Nov. 30, looking at what biblical figures said about Christ’s birth. For the last sermon, he looked at what Christ had to say about his own birth. He also wanted to clear up misconceptions people have about the holiday. As a kid, I was probably as confused as others about Christmas. This is some of the stuff I was told:
Christmas is the day Christ was born. OK, I heard that in a song or two.
Santa Claus brings us gifts, but they come from Jesus. OK … so do I leave a note on the tree for Santa or Jesus? Do I pray to Christ or Kris Kringle? And what about Santa Claus-what’s his story? Why all the names? Santa, Kris Kringle, Old Saint Nick?
Pastor Wilson noted the commercialism involved with the holiday that many Christians try to come to terms with. “Everyone wants a piece of Christmas,” he told me during a recent discussion. “There’s not another national holiday that people feel they have a vested interest in.”
I agree. He talked about other Christian holidays, like Easter, falling victim to the secular culture. I didn’t get that one either. Easter celebrates Christ’s death and resurrection. So what’s up with the Easter Bunny? And if readers were confused about my mentioning of Old Saint Nick at the beginning, I wasn’t talking about Santa Kringle Claus.
I’ve got nothing against Santa-fat, jolly, friendly, gives kids free stuff. But as Pastor Todd points out, people should not only know the true meaning of Christmas but the truth about it as well. We know about Mary, Joseph, the manger, and the three wise men-though the Bible never specified an exact number. But how did Santa and his legend end up trumping that story? Here’s a little history:
Nicholas of Myra (now present-day Turkey) was a bishop and saint in the 4th century, referred to also as Nicholas the Wonderworker for the miracles associated with him. An early Christian saint, he was known to also give gifts in secret to people. Saint Nicholas’ story and life became the inspiration for Santa Claus among early American settlers, folklore and fiction writers throughout the years. Thus, Santa is referred to as Old Saint Nick.
With Christmas being such an Americanized holiday, people might be surprised to know that Santa wasn’t “born” in America. Several European influences contributed to the Western-or American-Santa, most notably Sinterklaas, a traditional holiday figure in the Netherlands and its neighboring countries. Santa Claus is a Dutch translation for “Sinterklaas.” Dutch settlers from the early 1800s reportedly brought Sinterklaas and other traditions, such as the wrapping of gifts during St. Nicholas Eve on Dec. 5, to America. As for the name Kris Kringle? That’s another European influence.
Christkindl (Christ child) was another holiday gift-bringer celebrated in countries such as Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Christkindel is another spelling of the same character. Kris Kringle is an Americanized spelling, or misspelling, of the word. But the Santa Claus from the early centuries in America looked nothing like we know him today. We can thank the poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” better known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas” for changing that. Published in 1823, it described Nick’s (or Santa’s) rosy red cheeks, beard as white as snow, his bag of toys and his eight reindeer, names and all. Except this Santa was more like an elf. Remember: “what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.”
Santa grew in size and popularity in American culture in the 1930s after being featured in a Coca-Cola advertisement. Though he had been featured previously with his red suit, sleigh bells, beard and all in other published works-the highly popular Coca-Cola ads cemented the image of Santa Claus we’ve come to know today.
So the modern Santa Claus is about 80 years old and was born from … commercialism. Again, I’ve got nothing against him. A smile, if not on my face but in my heart, still shines for the old-timer this time of year. But how about a little more love for Jesus?
After all, we wouldn’t have Christmas without him.