Monday, December 18, 2006

What do you tell your kids about Santa?(Part 2)

On Saturday I posted the reasons why my husband and I are not making a big deal of Santa Claus with our children. Clearly, though, the issue can't be avoided altogether as images of Santa are everywhere at this time of year and our kids will want to know who he is. So, we have decided to tell them a little about the origins of "Santa Claus" when they ask, something, I must admit, I knew very little about until recently.

St Nicholas was born in what is modern-day Turkey during the 3rd century A.D. He was raised as a Christian and when his parents both died of an epidemic, he used his inheritance to serve others. He was made Bishop of Myra and suffered persecution for his faith under the Emperor Diocletian, spending some time in prison. Notably, he attended the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D. and contributed to the statement of orthodox Christianity regarding the deity of Christ. He died in 343 A.D. Various legends sprang up around his life in the subsequent years including one where he secretly provided the dowries for three sisters who hoped to be married. He apparently tossed bags of gold through the open window of their house which landed in stockings hanging around the fireplace. This gave rise to the tradition of putting out stockings.

Some churches around the world celebrate "St Nicholas Day" on 6th December. This custom emigrated to the New World with Dutch colonists and took root in American culture. Over the next two hundred years, St Nicholas was transformed into the red-suited, jolly old man by the influence of artistic depictions of him and the poem "The night before Christmas" penned in 1823. During this time, he became known by the name "Santa Claus", from the Dutch "Sinterklaas", and he was associated with the celebration of Christmas.

The Santa we are most familiar with today bears little resemblance to the historical St Nicholas, and is actually hugely influenced by the Coca Cola corporation. They ran a thirty year Christmas advertising campaign commencing in the late 1930's where Santa reached the pinnacle of red-suited rotundity.

So in fact, Santa Claus is largely a creation of modern materialism, and I suspect St Nicholas would turn in his grave if he knew what had arisen from the legends surrounding his life. How ironic that a man who was involved in defending the doctrine of the deity of Christ from the attacks of Arius in the 4th century, has become a distraction from the real meaning of Christmas for so many.

1 comment:

Catriona said...

Oops - I forgot to site my sources for these historical ramblings. The information was gleaned from Wikipedia and from the website of the St Nicholas Centre here. I think they are affiliated with the Eastern Orthodox church so they are big on saints, but the historical information is interesting.