The idea of Santa most prevalent in today’s culture, comes from many different myths, legends, and stories. The jolly old man that we know today was molded from three main ideas:
- The poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement Clarke Moore
We know it today as A Night before Christmas. Moore was said to have written his poem while on a sleigh ride through the snow. The features of a jolly old fat elf, a flying sleigh, and reindeer, that we now attribute to Santa Claus, first came from this poem by Moore.
- The Coca Cola Santa
Coca-Cola began to use the image of Santa Claus in the 1920s as advertising in the Saturday Evening Post. At that time Santa was still depicted as a slightly frowning thin man. It wasn’t until 1931 that Haddon Sundblom developed the image of Santa Claus using the poem by Moore as inspiration. In Sundblom’s illustrations, he began as a short gruff looking elf to the jolly old man we see today.
- Montgomery Ward’s Rudolph.
The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was written by a gentleman named Robert May who was employed by Montgomery Ward to create a marketing campaign. May wrote the story which was then made into a pamphlet, and given away to children as they came with their parents to shop.
So, Santa Claus is fake; a made-up story told to children. We should be focused on the real meaning of Christmas and shouldn’t be trying to deceive and confuse our children with a bunch of nonsense that takes away from the story of Jesus birth… right?
I don’t agree.
There is real basis for Santa Claus in history. St. Nicholas was an incredible witness for Christ in an age where it wasn’t popular to be a Christian. He was a selfless, generous, kind man who used all he had to share with those in need.
Saint Nicholas was said to be the bishop of Myra sometime in the 300s. This was the same era that Paul passed through on a ship when he nearly drowned.
Saint Nicholas was said to be born to a wealthy family in Lycra. His parents were wealthy shipowners who were said to spend much time helping the poor and needy. According to legend they died as a plague went through the city and they spent time with the sick trying to make them more comfortable. They left all their wealth to their only son Nicholas. Nicholas followed in his parent’s footsteps in his desire to help the poor. Due to his love for both men and God, the people of Myra soon chose him as their new bishop and nicknamed him Boy Bishop due to his tender age of 30.
Diocletian was the Roman Emperor at this time and the church was under much persecution. Nicholas was arrested and in prison for some five years – much of that in solitary confinement, until Constantine became Emperor and Nicholas was released.
Soon after, the Council of Nicaea was held and Nicholas was among the other Bishops who formed this document that we still use today in many church services.
At this time, history tells us that there was a huge famine in the area. Nicholas was reported to anonymously visit starving families in the night and leave coins near the fireplace.
One story tells of a night that Nicolas threw a leather satchel full of coins through the window of a poor man with three daughters. The man’s daughters were of the age to marry but he had no funds for a dowry. In those day, there was no hope of marriage without a dowry; Nicholas repeated this two more times until all three daughters had what they needed to get married.
These weren’t the only families he helped. Legend says that he began tossing coins through the chimney of four families that kept their doors locked. Some of these coins were said to land in the stockings that were hanging by the fire after their daily wash.
Saint Nicholas truly is an example that we should try to follow.
Yes, Santa, as we know him today is very different than St. Nicholas… or is he?
Maybe, instead of working so hard to separate the two stories, we might want to think about using the tale of Santa to tell the story of the real Sinteklaas. Sinteklaas is Dutch for Saint Nicholas; translated into English as Santa Claus. Maybe… just maybe, we could use Santa to emphasize the truth of what it looks like to give without expecting something in return; to live unselfishly for Christ.
To live the truth of God’s love as demonstrated by Christ… and St Nick.