Think you know the story of Christmas? How about the history of Santa?
Well, you might know that the story started with a Nicholas of Myra (modern day Turkey), whose first recorded act was filling the stockings of three sisters with gold so they would have enough to fulfill their dowries. But even after he brought a happily-ever-after to each girl, Nicholas went on doing good and eventually became a bishop. After that he was usually seen wearing the traditional red robes of the church. Yes, the very first red Santa cloak.
But how did Saint Nicholas become Santa Claus?
As the tradition of celebrating the birth of Christ spread, so did the story of Nicholas and his gift giving ways. The pronunciations, however, did not follow too easily along. The Dutch in particular had trouble with “Saint Nicholas,” which often came out sounding more like “SinterKlaas.” And over time and more mispronunciations, SinterKlaas turned into Santa Claus.
Then along came the Reformation.
When the Reformation swept Germany, most reformers decided to sweep away every semblance of the Catholic Church, including good St. Nick. But that doesn’t mean they did away with Christmas. By no means. The Germans went on to develop some of our most well know Christmas traditions.
Legend has it that Martin Luther, always a fan of the object lesson, created the first Christmas tree, choosing an evergreen tree for the everlasting life we have in Christ and lights for the Light of the World. Later people started hanging fruit on their trees to symbolize the blessings of God. We now call them Christmas tree ornaments.
The Germans didn’t actually do away with Santa, especially since their children had become very attached to the Christmas Eve visit from the jolly gift-giver. So, they just created their own version, by the name of Father Christmas.
“When, what to my wondering eyes should appear?”
Over the years, story after story rolled together until the idealized images of Santa came to be, perhaps best described by the classic poem, Twas The Night Before Christmas. Yes, the image of a man whose belly jiggled like a bowl full of jelly made its author quite popular and quite wealthy. Mr. Clement Clark Moore was in fact a son of a Bishop and eventually became a founder of the General Theological Seminary of New York. The school was built upon ground paid for by eight tiny reindeer.
Years later, the school’s first instructor of church music, John H. Hopkins, decided to add to the annual Christmas pageant and composed what is now one of the most famous nativity songs, We Three Kings of Orient Are, and its iconic image of a star with royal beauty bright.
So, you see, whether it’s Saint Nicholas, SinterKlaas, Father Christmas, or our dear Santa Claus, you just can’t quite separate this jolly old soul from the true meaning of Christmas. I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you that it doesn’t matter if it is the dead of Winter or the height of Summer, just give a gift, share a smile, and celebrate the birth of our Savior.
Oh, and if you like to check out my own version of the Santa Claus legend, you can click here to learn more about a free download of my newest book, The Father Christmas Confessions: A Christmas Comedy.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a goodnight.