Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Do You Believe In Santa Claus?

I do.

Not that I think a man will be coming down our chimney (which we don't have) and put presents under the tree (which we do have.) However, I believe in the spirit of Santa which represents giving, love and merriness. These are all among the same principles that God holds highest.

I ask this question because it was brought up this year by someone that we should not celebrate or believe in Santa because it goes against Christian tradition.

I find this idea erroneous, but I wanted more than just my opinion on this matter, I did some research. I want to share what I learned about Santa Claus and why we carry on the tradition of the jolly old elf.

Saint Nicholas
Photo Credit
The first thing to notice about Santa Claus is that is stems from a Christian Saint still honored by many of Catholic and Orthodox traditions. Saint Nicholas lived in the 3rd Century A.D in a port town called Patara (now part of Turkey). He inherited wealth and a strong Christian character from his parents who died of epidemic when he was young. As he grew, in care of his uncle also name Nicholas, he put into practice Jesus' words in Matthew 19:21, "...if you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me."

Nicholas later became the Bishop of Myra and continued to serve God. He was known for his generosity to ones in need, love for children and concern for sailors. He would often give to those in need, especially children, but he did not like to be seen. He was persecuted for his beliefs and imprisoned. As Saint his feast day is December 6, marking the day of his death (343 AD). He was buried in his Catholic Church in Myra where a healing liquid known as Manna formed in his grave. This is the man our idea of Santa Claus is based on.

Irving's "History of New York," 1809
Photo Credit
In America, the idea of Santa Claus has grown in detail and legend through popular culture. As early as 1773 and 1774 New York papers introduced the tradition and Dutch name of "Sinter Klaas" (which is a shortened form of Saint Nicholas) that our name for Santa Claus is derived from. From there, Washington Irving helped the popularity grow after mentioning Santa Claus (still referred to as "Sinter Klaas" or St. Nicholas) in his publication "The History of New York" in 1809.

From Moor's handwritten version of
"A Visit From St. Nicholas," 1822
Photo Credit

It was in 1822, when Clement Clarke Moore (who was an Episcopal minister) wrote "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (actually entitiled "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas" when published) that our modern Santa Claus was born. His long poem received an immediate favorable response. Later in 1881, Thomas Nast depicted Santa Claus by taking from Moore's poem adding the red suit, North Pole workshop, elves and Mrs. Claus in a cartoon published in Harper's Weekly. It is this image that first matches our modern idea of Santa Claus.

Thomas Nast's image of Santa, 1881
Picture Credit: Britannica

Through popular culture and time the image of Santa Claus has changed. But in my mind I celebrate the meanings behind Santa that Saint Nicholas honored in his lifetime devotion to serving God. During the holidays we celebrate giving, love and joy. Santa Claus is a big part of our tradition. I grew up believing in Santa Claus and I still believe in the meaning of Christmas. Santa will be visiting Zoey this year. Yes, we put the presents under the tree, but I want her to believe in the magic of Christmas while she is little because then she can believe in magic all year round for years to come, just like I do.

Merry Christmas!

I got my information from the following websites:
St. Nicholas Center
The History of Christmas
Wikipedia: Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas Santa Claus

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