Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas without Santa

I am going out on a limb here, and producing a 'bonus' column for Christmas. Here in the United States it has become fashionable in public places to downplay the very word "Christmas" for it's obvious religious meaning. On the other hand, some of the very people that bemoan the criticism of Christmas contribute to the cheapening of the holiday by the almost religious devotion to the fictional character known as "Santa Claus" to much of the world.

Oddly enough, if the religious founders of the American colonies would have had their way, the celebrations we know in this country, including Santa Claus, would never had been attached to the remembrance of Christmas day. On Christmas Day, 1776, George Washington crossed the Delaware River to surprise German mercenaries celebrating on the holiday. Such celebrations - with joyous frivolity and 'good will,' were not a part of the majority of American colonists in those days. The Dutch "Sinterklass" was lampooned in the newspapers of the day. The British had their "Father Christmas" but he had little in common with the legend that was by then at least four hundred years old.

And so, what if the popularization of Santa Claus had not made the character part and parcel of the holiday we know today? Consider the possibilities of a holy day that comes once a year, observed briefly by the pious faithful, but not trumpeted to the world as a time to buy presents for child and adult alike. No 'black Friday' when the retail stores seek to make a profit by practically giving away loss leaders. No "cyber Monday" upon which geeks jam the bandwidths looking for just the right gifts to be shipped in time for the big day less than four weeks away!

Without Santa Claus the mention of the holiday might not be seen for a full eight out of fifty-two weeks of the year! That is, until merchants began taking "Christ" out of Christmas, the name of Christ was at least acknowledged almost one sixth of the year! But when people think Christmas, they say "krismus" and it does not even sound like the reason for the season. Of course the original model for the myth - Saint Nicolas - is hardly noticeable in the name used today either. Certainly "Santa" is Spanish for "Saint" and "Claus" is a clipped form of Nicolas, and most people know "old St. Nick" to be the same "person," but "Santa" could be any saint! To the uneducated, the mention of "Krismus" and "Santa" brings no knowledge of Jesus the Messiah nor the saints who are his followers.

Without Santa, the solemness of the holy day would cause the world to pause and think something like: "Why are you celebrating the birth of a baby that lived so long ago?" The unbeliever might wonder why such a scene as a baby in a feeding trough means so much to so many. The lights might not be gaudy but might shine on the manger like the stars that did so that night at the turning point of human history -- the point where the calendars divide from minus to plus.

If gifts were given, perhaps they would not be as 'rewards' but as 'gifts.' They might even be given back to the one whose birthday is being celebrated - consecrated to his service. Dear Saint Nicolas, dead some sixteen hundred years, might be remembered as a diligent servant of God who defended the faith in the face of rising opposition. A man who helped the Church define what it means to believe in God as seen in Jesus, the Word made flesh.

The world without the modern legend of Santa Claus might be a little less colorful, but I doubt if it would be the least bit less joyful. May all who read this have a blessed Christmas as we remember the one for whom the holy day was named.


  1. The reason Santa Claus became so big in the US was the anti-Britishness after the Revolutionary War. Same reason why coffee is the morning beverage of choice rather than tea.

  2. Uh, I am not so sure of that one, Brian. Santa did not become popular until after 1820 or so. We get most of the legend from the Dutch and other north European immigrants, many of whom had been despised in the 18th century. To say that Santa was big because Americans didn't like the British is not a logical step to take.


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