Once in a year, comes the merriest holiday that is Christmas. Shinning flickering lights, evergreen, mistletoes, hollies, bright colorful ornaments, and Christmas trees aesthetically clad with various designs would be decked everywhere. Christmas songs are played and sung by carollers. People crowd in the malls and stores to buy gifts for their loved ones. Families and friends gather to spend some time together and bond over the holiday. And there’s the delightful snow falling on this cold wintry holiday, where kids and even adults play around, adding to the cheerful ambiance.
With all the festivity all around on this very much anticipated and widely celebrated event, you can really feel the spirit of Christmas in the air, even weeks or even months before Christmas Eve on December 24. But the most excited for this joyful holiday would be the kids, especially as this is the time when the jolly; fat; white-haired; long-bearded; old man donning red clothing and hat with fur accents, we all know and love, Santa Claus, goes about and gives out gifts.
Several wishful kids would send letters to Santa Claus, asking him to give them the gifts they have been dreaming of. There are some who are lucky enough to actually encounter him face to face. Sometimes, Santa Claus would be seen in some places, such as malls, where he would be seated on a chair, as kids fall in line just to talk to him and tell him what gifts they want. Other times, he would even be spotted celebrating the holiday, entertaining and playing with the kids. It is on Christmas Eve that Santa Claus sets off on his selfless mission to bring happiness to every home by delivering gifts to every household. Of course, you ought to have been nice to receive a gift from him; otherwise, you’ll end up getting coals. In exchange for the gifts, kids would usually leave some cookies and milk for Santa Claus and also some carrots or celery for the reindeer as a late snack.
As he is very much sought after during the Christmas season, during this time, it’s almost as though Santa Claus is a celebrity. And this tradition goes on every year. But have you ever wondered all about Santa Claus? Who is he really? Where does he live? Does he have a family? Where does he get all those gifts? How does he travel all over the world from house to house to deliver all those gifts? Why does he even give out gifts during Christmas anyway? Why does he give coals to naughty kids?
GETTING TO KNOW MORE ABOUT SANTA CLAUS
We all know Santa Claus very well as the big, bearded, old man clad in red clothes and a hat lined with white fur; a big buckled black belt; and black boots, who travels all over the world through his sleigh driven by his reindeer and goes down the chimneys of houses to place gifts beneath the Christmas tree. But one can’t help but be curious about him. So let’s get to know more about Santa Claus.
Usually seen boisterously laughing his signature laugh, “Ho ho ho!”, the jolly old man just wants to spread happiness throughout the world. Looking into his origins, the kind-hearted and giving character he has is actually rooted centuries ago from his folklore family tree.
Among Santa Claus’ roots, the earliest known for generously giving gifts is Saint Nicholas who was a Greek bishop from around the 4th century. Having been religious from a very early age, Saint Nicholas devoted his life to Christianity. He is well known for his generosity towards the poor. There is, in fact, one well-known account of his act of kindness found in the medieval literature, Life of Saint Nicholas by Michael the Archimandrite. That particular incident was when he heard of a once wealthy man who has become impoverished and has three daughters for whom he can’t afford dowries. He provided dowries for the three daughters with his own inheritance to spare them from prostitution by doing it in secret out of modesty, as well as to spare the family from humiliation in accepting charity. For three consecutive nights, he threw a purse filled with gold coins into their window, one for each daughter. It was said that on the third night, the father stayed up and caught his act of charity. Upon seeing Saint Nicholas, the father fell on his knees and thanked him. He then told the father to not speak of the gifts to anyone.
In the middle ages, in commemoration of Saint Nicholas as a gift-giver, children were given gifts the evening before his feast day on December 6. However, Martin Luther, suggesting the Christ child as a bearer of gifts, later promoted the custom of giving gifts to children on Christmas instead, shifting the focus from the veneration of saints into Christ. Nevertheless, Saint Nicholas’ image as a gift-giver remains.
Next on the line after Saint Nicholas, there was Odin from Norse mythology. Before Christmas came into the picture for the historical Germanic peoples, they celebrated a festival, called, Yule or Yuletide. They observed it every midwinter, prior to Christianization. During the Yuletide season, the white-haired long-bearded Odin rode on his eight-footed horse, Sleipnir in the midwinter sky, as he visited people and gave gifts. Upon Christianization, many of their traditions from Yuletide were incorporated into Christmas.
Then there was Sinterklaas who has characteristics very similar to Saint Nicholas and Odin. He is a white-haired, long-bearded, old man who dons a long red cape and rides a white horse. However, unlike Santa Claus who appears every Christmas, Sinterklaas has his own holiday named after him. The holiday, Sinterklass, an occasion of gift-giving in the Netherlands, is observed the evening before or on the day, itself, on December 6, which is same as Saint Nicholas’ Day. But the manner of celebration of Sinterklaas, as well as Christmas varies among regions. For the Dutch, 36% of their population only give gifts on Sinterklaas Eve or on the day of Sinterklaas, while 21% give gifts on Christmas. Moreover, 26% give gifts on both days. On the other hand, in Belgium, on Sinterklaas, only kids receive gifts, while on Christmas Day, people of all ages get to receive gifts.
Same as Santa Claus, Sinterklaas distinguishes the naughty and nice. He has records of children’s behavior in a book that he carries. He also has his assistants. Although they’re not elves, his assistants are called Zwarte Pieten. The Zwarte Pieten are black, as they are Moors from Spain. They have curly hair and wear red lipstick and colorful Renaissance attire.
Around the mid-17th century in England, the personification of Christmas, known as Father Christmas, came about. Clad in green or scarlet robes lined with fur, while he promoted peace and joy along with a festive celebration involving good food and alcohol, he epitomized the spirit of Christmas. The only difference is he didn’t give any gifts to children. However, the English Reformed Protestants, called the Puritans, who want to rid the English Church of its Catholic practices, disapproved all acts of Christmas merriment and even outlawed all Christmas traditions, as they considered it papist. As opposed to the Puritan war against Christmas, proponents of the Christmas traditions portrayed Father Christmas as a symbol of the good old days of festive merry-making. He, therefore, became a representation of restrained revelry until the mid-19th century, when he was eventually overtaken by Santa Claus.
WHERE DOES HE LIVE?
We could imagine Santa Claus to reside in a place that exuberates the Christmas spirit. No place could ever be more fitting than the winter wonderland that is the North Pole. Surrounded with all that snow, it provides a constantly cool wintry atmosphere that is associated with the Christmas season and gives off a Christmassy vibe. Santa Claus, himself, loves the snow.
Santa Claus’ place of residence also appeared in illustrations by American illustrator, Thomas Nast, for the poem, “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore. His illustrations showed a girl posting a letter addressed to Santa Claus at the North Pole; Santa Claus sitting on a box which had the words, “Santa Claus, North Pole” written on it; a map of Santa Claus’ journey from the North Pole to America; and Santa Claus, himself, in his North Pole Workshop.
SANTA CLAUS’ FAMILY
Christmas is also about giving love, and love always starts with the family. Hence, Christmas traditions also involve family. But what about Santa Claus’ family? Where does he find his source of love that spreads throughout the world? When it comes to his family, Santa Claus is usually depicted with his spouse Mrs. Claus. She is a very loving supportive spouse who helps Santa Claus in preparing gifts and in taking care of the reindeer. She also often bakes cookies for him and the elves. Although the two never had any children, the dutiful elves and the trusty reindeers are a great bunch that has become a part of their family.
THE STORY BEHIND GIVING GIFTS
In his mission to put smiles on kids’ faces on Christmas, Santa Claus gets a lot of help from the elves; the reindeer; and Mrs. Claus. The creation of toys is designated to the elves who, by nature, are already crafty to begin with, but are also highly trained in creating various toys, ranging from the very simple assembly of a doll to a more technologically advanced Xbox 360. They are also responsible in the preparation of all the sweets to be stuffed in the stockings. Feeding, cleaning after, and training the reindeer to be in tip-top shape for travel on Christmas Eve is also assigned to them. For traveling all over the world to bring the gifts to the respective homes, Santa Claus can count on his reindeer. And Mrs. Claus also gives some assistance.
This Christmas lore actually has a good effect towards kids, as it promotes good behavior, because the gifts, as well as the warning of receiving coals if they have been naughty encourage them to be well-behaved. But why does Santa Claus give coals? As he enters houses through chimneys to deliver gifts to well-behaved kids, he also grabs the coals from the chimney, so he can get a bit more space to come out. Then, he stuffs them in the naughty kids’ stockings.
Santa Claus, along with his crew put in a lot of effort to bring about Christmas cheer. But there is more to Christmas than just gifts. All the efforts done by Santa Claus’s team are actually religiously rooted. It is from the Bible, in the gospel of Mathew 2:1-12 that Santa Claus got the idea of gift-giving.
The gospel tells of when Jesus was born in Bethlehem during the time of King Herod. There were three wise men who came from the east and followed the star leading to the newborn king. In their pursuit of the star, they made a stop at Jerusalem. Upon reaching Jerusalem, they asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” King Herod felt troubled when the news reached him, so was all of Jerusalem. He called out all the leading clerics and scholars of the law to find out where baby Jesus can be found. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet has written: But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”
After learning where baby Jesus can be found, King Herod secretly spoke with the wise men. He directed them to Bethlehem and ordered them to make a careful search and report to him once they find him. So, on went the three wise men on their journey to Bethlehem with the aid of the star to find baby Jesus.
Once they reached where the star was over, they were overjoyed to find baby Jesus with his mother, Mary. They kneeled down, worshipped him, and presented him with gifts of gold; incense; and myrrh. On their way home, they went on an alternative route, as they were guided by a dream that came to them miraculously as a warning not to return to King Herod, for he planned to kill Jesus to preserve his authority.
The three wise men’s noble act of gift-giving was adopted by Santa Claus. It was from the story of the three wise men that the tradition of Santa Claus’s gift-giving during the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 came about.
THE STORY BEHIND GIVING GIFTS
Amidst all the decorations and images of Santa Claus seen everywhere during Christmas, the true essence of Christmas is actually the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the tradition of gift giving was based on the gospel of Mathew. Although there is nothing wrong with some merry-making, what is important is that we commemorate the birth of the Lord. Apart from all the festivity during Christmas, Christians can also observe a more religious means of celebrating.
Even as early as the first week of December, Christians prepare for the coming of the Lord, as they observe the Christian tradition that is Advent. Advent is a time of reflection and prayer in anticipation of the coming of the Lord. During Advent, Christians set up a wreath made of evergreen and four candles, with three that are purple and one that is rose, which are lit according to their respective Sundays and colors as Christmas approaches. In addition to all the other colorful and shimmering decorations put up for Christmas, Christians usually add the Nativity Scene to their Christmas decorations. And on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, Christians usually attend mass to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
No matter what manner of preference to celebrate Christmas, Christians, still, must always keep the Christmas celebration Christ-centered. It may be nice to receive gifts on Christmas, but the best gift of all would be Jesus Christ, himself, as he sacrificed his own life on the cross to save us from our sins.