Care must be
taken with Santa Claus, nonetheless he is not a totally evil creation
as Fr. Weiser points out in Religious Customs in the Family.
Many people think that Santa Claus
is St. Nicholas “in disguise.” Actually, the two figures have nothing
in common except the name. When the Dutch came to America and established
the colony of New Amsterdam, their children enjoyed the traditional "visit
of St. Nicholas" on December 5, for the Dutch had kept this ancient
Catholic custom even after the Reformation. Later, when England founded
the colony of New York in the same territory, the kindly figure of Sinter
Klaas (pronounced like Santa Claus) soon aroused the desire among the
English children of having such a heavenly visitor come to their own homes,
The English settlers were glad
and willing to comply with the anxious wish of their children. However,
the figure of a Catholic Saint and bishop was not acceptable in their
eyes, especially since many of them were Presbyterians, to whom a “bishop”
was repugnant. Also, they did not celebrate the feasts of Saints according
to the ancient Catholic calendar.
The dilemma was solved by transferring
the visit of, the mysterious man whom the Dutch called Santa Claus from
December 5 to Christmas, and toy introducing a radical change in the figure
itself. It was not merely a “disguise.” But the ancient Saint was completely
replaced by an entirely different character. Some clever mind invented
this substitution in the eighteenth century.
Behind the name Santa Claus no
longer stands the traditional figure of St. Nicholas, but the pagan Germanic
god Thor (after whom Thursday is named). To show the origin of the modern
Santa Claus tale, let us give some details about the god Thor from ancient
Thor was the god of the peasants
and the common people. He was represented as an elderly man, jovial and
friendly, of heavy build, with a long white beard. His element was fire,
his color red. The rumble and roar of thunder were said to be caused by
the rolling of his chariot, for he alone among the gods never rode an
horseback, but drove in a chariot drawn by two white goats (called Cracker
and Gnasher). He was fighting the giants of ice and snow, and thus became
the Yule-god. He was said to live in the "Northland" where he
had his palace among the icebergs. By our pagan forefathers he was considered
as the cheerful and friendly god, never harming humans, but rather helping
and protecting them. The fireplace in every home was especially sacred
to him, and he was said to come down through the chimney into his element,
the fire. (See H. A. Guerber. Myths of Northern Lands, Vol. I,
p. 61ff, New York, 1895.)
Here, then, is the true origin
of our “Santa Claus.” It certainly was a stroke of genius that produced
such a charming and attractive figure for our children from the withered
pages of pagan mythology. With the Christian Saint, however, whose name
he still bears, this Santa Claus has really nothing to do. To be honest
and historically correct, we would rather have to call him "Father
Thor," or some such name.
Perhaps this will make it clear
to parents why it is so difficult to explain “Santa Claus” as St. Nicholas.
There is no basis for such an explanation; the two figures are entirely
different. Considering the historical background, it might even seem better
not to tell the children at all that “Santa Claus” is another name of
St. Nicholas. Should we not rather let them consider St. Nicholas their
Patron Saint (December 6) and Santa Claus, the delivery man of presents
(December 24), as two completely unrelated figures, as they really are?
The fairytale of Santa Claus will
not be abolished easily, despite the efforts of well-meaning people. Nor
does it seem necessary. Children do like fairytales, and Santa Claus is
one of the most charming of them. Catholic parents might use it without
harm, provided they apply some safeguards to avoid an undue overstressing
of the Santa Claus figure. Perhaps the following suggestions might help:
Keep the Santa tale in its simple,
appealing form and shun the corruptions introduced by commercial managers
like Santason, Mrs. Santa Claus and similar repulsive, features.
Never allow the figure of Santa
Claus to dominate the child's mind. The Child Jesus must be the main figure
in all his Christmas thinking. Picture to him Santa as merely a servant
and deliveryman - delightful but not very important. I know a mother who
had explained this to her children. One day she pointed out to them how
Santa Claus was to be seen in every department store and how he drew so
much attention to himself. The children found it highly amusing that this
delivery-servant of God should try to make himself the center of the celebration.
"He is a little dumb, isn't he?" said the girl, "but Jesus
likes him and we like him, too."
Do not let your children present
their wishes to Santa. If you want them to write down what they desire,
let them write to the Child Jesus, according to the old Catholic custom.
Santa does not give the presents: he only delivers what the Lord sends.
The above suggestions will also
help to lessen the "shock" when the children find out that "there
is no Santa." As one mother did when her little boy came full of
doubts and asked her if there really was a Santa Claus, such a question
should always be answered in truth no matter how small the child is.
"Of course not," said
the mother quietly, "that's only a story for very small children.
You are a big boy now, so you understand how it really is. Our dear Lord
does not need a delivery-man. He has already given you somebody who loves
you very much and who is happy to give you the Christmas presents in His
Name. Do you know who these persons are?"
The child thought for a moment,
then he said, "Daddy and Mother?"
"Yes, my dear," answered
she, "and would you not rather that Father and I give you the presents?
We love you more than Santa Claus does."
"Why didn't you tell me that
"Because it is nice for little
children to believe in Santa. Aren't you glad you did?"
Again the boy thought for a minute.
"Yes, it was nice," he said finally. Then he added. “But it's
much nicer now”.
Not every case can be handled exactly
this way. of course. There are various ways of doing it. How ever, by
following the general idea, parents will have no trouble in setting their
children straight about the Santa tale when the right moment comes. The
descriptions of great disappointment and psychological conflicts we often
read about apply only to families where the parents have misled their
own children by allowing Santa to take the central place instead of Christ,
whose birthday is the only reason for the whole feast.
The Date of
Up until now one thought that the
date of December 25th was a Christianisation of the Roman Saturnalis
which celebrated the rebirth of the Unconquered Sun. However, a new discovery
throws a little light on the date of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Israeli erudite, Shermanyahu Talman, has already published a study
on the calendar of the Jewish sect of Qumran. Here one finds the calendar
of the services of the Temple which the priests assumed one after the
other, at the time of the birth of Jesus.
The priest Zacharias, father of
St. John the Baptist, was of the family of Abias, (Lk. 1:5). He had to
be on duty in the Temple twice a year from the 8th to the 14th
of the third month, and from the 24th to the 30th
of the eighth month. This latter date fell at the end of September. It
is thus logical that the Byzantine calendar celebrates the feast of the
conception of St. John the Baptist on the 23rd of September,
nine months before his birth
on the 24th of June. The "six months" that is referred
to at the Annunciation by the Archangel Gabriel coincides will with the
liturgical feast of the 25th of March, three months before
the birth of the Baptist (on the 24th of June) and nine months
before the 25th of December. Truly this gives historical value
to the choice of the 25th of December for the feast of Christmas.