And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NAS)
"Tis the season to be jolly," so says the Christmas song, Deck the Halls. But what is in this season for us to be jolly? Is it the receiving of gifts, the festivities of Santa Claus coming to town, or is it the gathering of a mass of people together to celebrate the birth of Christ? This article takes a look at the origins of Santa Claus to understand the reason for Christmas season.
Santa Claus, known also as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle or just Santa, is the figure in most cultures described as the one bringing gifts on the eve of Christmas Day. Saint Nicholas, who is believed to be the youngest bishop in the history of the church, is well known for his benevolence in the 4th century as the one who cared for needy children and poor maidens. He was persecuted and imprisoned with many other Christians during the reign of the Roman emperor Diocletian and was released and honored when Constantine the Great established the Christian Church as the official religion.
Two hundred years after his death, Nicholas became a great figure in Christian legend, and Justinian, the last Roman emperor in the East, built a church in honor of Nicholas in Constantinople. A day was set aside to celebrate the feast of Nicholas in honor of his benevolence on December 6 as Saint Nicholas Day. In certain countries, this festival is taken over and assimilated to Christmas, partly because Saint Nicholas Day is very near to Christmas and partly because of some Protestant hostility toward the worship of the saints in some parts of the world. After the feast of Saint Nicholas had been moved forward and identified with Christmas, some of these countries felt the real patron of the day and Giver of gifts should be Christ Himself, hence the birth of Kris Kringle in popular German, meaning Christ Child. Among some of the German people in America, however, the legend of Santa Claus continued to survive, and Kris Kringle became a combination of Santa Claus and the Christ Child.
In the 19th century, political cartoonist Thomas Nast of the United States popularized Santa Claus as the fat jolly man in red coat and trousers with white cuffs and collar, a black leather belt and boots. This portrayal of Santa was reinforced through song, radio, television, and films. In the American version, Santa was said to be living in the far north or the North Pole. In the United Kingdom of Europe, however, Father Christmas was said to live in Lapland. Blending local folklore from Nordic countries, Saint Nicholas was also said to be bringing gifts with the Yule Goat, which gradually became the elves, the ones said to be responsible for making the toys of Santa.
This combination provides a summarized idea of how Saint Nicholas became Santa Claus from the earliest times, and the birth of the elves. The mystification of Santa flying through the sky with reindeers on a sleigh is therefore a concept not of Christian origins, but of stories belonging to countless fairy tales about elves, gnomes, spirits, and hobgoblins.
In understanding Christmas, therefore, we must return to the origins of Christmas celebration. The Bible states it clearly, that the reason for this season of Christmas is the birth of God the Word, Who became flesh and dwelt among us, the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). Christmas is therefore about Christ-mass, the gathering of a mass of people to celebrate Christ's birth.
Teach us O Lord not to celebrate Christmas as just a season to be jolly. Help us put our perspectives right in understanding the origins of Santa Claus and the true reason for the Christmas season. Stir our hearts Lord to be forever grateful to You for coming down to earth as a child to be born of a woman to save us all from sin and death, and to grow up as a Man that we may understand You better. Draw us near O God our Creator for we acknowledge You as our Lord and Savior. Thank You Lord for Christmas!
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