Everyone loves Santa Claus. Who wouldn’t? He embodies happiness, fun, excitement and gifts; but what about this little known European Saint Nicholas? What did he accomplish in his life? Why is he important? How did he morph into our modern day Santa Claus?
St. Nicholas, born sometime around 300 AD, became Bishop of Myra of the city now known as Demure, Turkey. Nicholas spent his entire life centered on Jesus Christ tirelessly caring for those in need. His feast day is still celebrated today on December 6th, the anniversary of his death. On the eve of his feast, European children place their shoes near their front door or in a window for St. Nicholas to fill with goodies.
Our first signs of the traditions of St. Nicholas in America came with the Vikings who dedicated a cathedral to him in Greenland. Christopher Columbus named a Haitian port for him, and the Spaniards named a settlement “St. Nicholas Ferry” in today’s city of Jacksonville, Florida. In 1804, after the American Revolution, the New York Historical Society promoted St. Nicholas as patron saint of both society and city. It wasn’t until 1809 when Diedrich Knickerbocker’s History of NY described St. Nick as an elfin figure instead of a saint, that we saw the emergence of a distinctive American figure. The new Americanized image of St. Nicholas was later sealed with the poem, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas.
Additionally, each year from 1931-1964 an artist named Haddon Sundblom created a new Santa for Coca-Cola’s “Thirst knows no season” campaign. It was his rendering of the jolly, life-sized, red-suited, magical elf that solidified the American image of Santa. By the 1950s Santa was everywhere. Retailers used Santa’s popularity to boost lagging year end sales and that success spread worldwide. Thus, the lines between St. Nicholas’ day of December 6th, the anticipated arrival of Santa Claus on December 24th and Jesus’ birthday became blurred.
Mom, make this year the year your family does their part to help restore balance to our society’s materialistic and self-centered interests. You can start by honoring the children’s saint and tireless giver, St. Nicholas (a.k.a. Santa) with recognition of his day on December 6th. So too can we reclaim the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ, on our designated day of December 25th. How about taking it a step further, and keep your gift giving to your children down to three gifts. The Bible teaches us that three Wise Men came from the east, each bearing a gift for the baby King. If three gifts were good enough for Jesus, that is surely enough for us, right?
Blessings to you and yours and Merry Christmas!
Kirsten Berger Coaching