“Hey, Hey, Hey, he heard them say, Santa’s phony – all the way!” These are the words from the mean older kids in the book, Santa Are You For Real. We know that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ but how did Santa Claus get his foot in the door to try to take the celebration over?
I honestly do not remember when I figured out Santa wasn’t a jolly ol’ fellow who came down the chimney to bring me gifts on Christmas and that wasn’t the whole reason Christmas existed, but I do remember when I learned who Santa, or Saint Nicholas really was. About 1998 I experienced my first Advent Season with my soon to be husband’s family and one of the things they do every December 6th is read the book, Santa Are You For Real, to celebrate St. Nicholas Day. This illustrated kid’s book tells the “real” story of Santa Claus.
One story has him begging wheat from sailors passing through his area, for his country that was experiencing a famine. The sailors were afraid that if they gave it to him they would not have the required amount to give to the Emperor. Nicholas promised they would not suffer any loss and was given enough wheat for two years, including enough for sowing. When the sailors offloaded at their final destination and the wheat was weighed for the emperor, the amount had not changed.
The tradition of hanging stockings is from a time when Nicholas heard about three daughters of a poor man who did not have money for a dowry and would in all likelihood be forced to go into prostitution. On three separate occasions, under cover of darkness, because he did not want credit for the act, he tossed enough gold coin in the window of the house to cover the dowries for the daughters, once the gold landed in a stocking that was hanging to dry. Hence the hanging stockings for Christmas morning.
How did St. Nicholas end up as an American Icon? In 1822, Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister, wrote a long Christmas poem for his three daughters entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas.” The poem, which he was hesitant to publish due to the frivolous nature of its subject, is largely responsible for the modern image of Santa Claus as a “right jolly old elf” with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of his head! Although some of Moore’s imagery was probably borrowed from other sources, his poem helped popularize the now-familiar image of a Santa Claus who flew from house to house on Christmas Eve, in “a miniature sleigh” led by eight flying reindeer–leaving presents for deserving children. “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” created a new and immediately popular American icon. In 1881, political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the first likeness that matches our modern image of Santa Claus. His cartoon, which appeared in Harper’s Weekly, depicted Santa as a rotund, cheerful man with a full, white beard, holding a sack laden with toys for lucky children. It is Nast who gave Santa his bright red suit trimmed with white fur, North Pole workshop, elves, and his wife, Mrs. Claus.
Another name associated with St. Nicholas is Kriss Kringle. The word comes from Germany and is translated as Christ Child, meaning gift-giver. God sent the ultimate gift of life to us in the form of his Son and that is the true reason we celebrate Christmas.
On a side note, I went to my favorite source for gathering data, Facebook, and asked my friends this question: What history do you know about St. Nicholas/Santa Claus? How old were you when you found out he wasn't "real"? How did you tell your kids that he isn't "real"?
First off I got several adults who said, “What? Santa’s not real”, I also got one comment that he, St. Nicholas, punched a heretic at a church council meeting, then we got down to business and it was about fifty-fifty on parents who let their kids believe in Santa and those who told them right off the bat that he isn’t real.
One mom states “we never did Santa; we wanted our children to celebrate Jesus only. We told them that others played Santa and the tales of St. Nick and encouraged them not to ruin it for others that played it. All of our children are grown now and have families of their own and have expressed appreciation that we were honest with them and that it did not ruin Christmas knowing Santa wasn’t real.”
Another mother said they never introduced Santa as a magical creature who brings gifts to children. They try to model their Christmas around Jesus but they also ask their children not to ruin the magic of Santa for others and for now to keep it to themselves that Santa isn’t real.
Renee’ said her oldest figured it out around second grade and told her younger brother, neither seemed bothered by it and she has shared with them the bits and pieces of what she knows about the history and folklore of the real Saint.
There were also several that said they tell their kids they still believe in Santa themselves and that Santa is the “magic” of Christmas or that Santa is the spirit of giving. Then we have people like Judy who told her kids when they were young that the minute they tell me Santa isn’t real they start getting underwear for Christmas. Her kids are all grown now and still believe for fear of having to open underwear on Christmas morning.
So, if you are looking for a way to tell your children the real story of Santa I highly recommend the book mentioned here several times, Santa Are You For Real. It keeps the spirit of Santa intact with gift giving and magic but honors the real reason for Christmas.
Now, get out along The Corridor find a Santa to take your picture with, have fun giving gifts in secret and sharing the spirit and magic of Christmas and in closing remember the words from Todd in the book Santa Are You For Real “I’ll act like St. Nick,” Todd said to his dad, “It’s Jesus he loved – He makes us all glad!”
Wishing the readers along The Corridor a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year