By Coach Delisa Deavenport, MBA, CPC
This is a question asked hundreds of times in the days before Christmas. We ask children and adults, “Do you believe in Santa?”. Are we asking if we believe that a jolly, plump man with a bearded face and a red suit, somehow gets into the homes of small children and leaves presents? Are we asking if we believe in the loving, giving spirit of Christmas? Are we asking if Santa exists in any form? I remember quickly coming to Santa’s defense advocating for the spirit of Christmas and Santa’s loving, giving ways throughout my adult years, because I believed in the spirit of Christmas as a time to renew unselfishly giving our time, money and love to those in need.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I became an Orthodox Christian, that I learned Santa REALLY IS a real person. He was born around the year 270 A.D. to the parents of Theophanes and Nonna in what is now Turkey. They named him Nicholas. From birth, Nicholas was a holy man, obedient to God as a Christian. As a new infant, Nicholas stood up during his baptism for 3 hours all by himself, to honor the Most Holy Trinity. When he was a baby, he would not nurse from his mother until his parents finished their evening prayers. As a child, Nichols would spend all day in church and at night prayed and studied scripture. Now you can see why this amazing Christian man became one of the churches great Saints.
Sinter Niklaas means Saint Nicholas in Dutch; Sint for short. Sinterklaas is an old tradition, brought from the Netherlands to the Dutch over 300 years ago. As the tradition goes, Sint Nicolaas arrives, in Holland on a steamboat, the first Saturday after November 11th, to begin visiting schools, hospitals and shopping malls. Sint Nicolaas travels on a white horse wearing a gold and red bishop’s headdress and a red ceremonial cape. He carries a Sheppard’s cane that has a fancy curl resembling a candy cane.
Advertisements - Click the Speaker Icon for Audio
Sint Nicolaas, then visits children on the eve of Saint Nicholas’ Name Day and fills their shoes with presents.
You see, in the Orthodox church, Saints are honored and celebrated on the anniversary of their death. Saint Nicholaas died on December 6, 343, therefore, the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition is carried out on the eve of December 5th and Saint Nicholas is remembered on December 6th. Saint Nicholas is known for many wondrous acts and therefore, called the Wonderworker. Archbishop Saint Nicholas’ ties to Sinterklaas and Christmas, go back to the story of him saving a father from having to sell his three daughters into prostitution to put food on the table. Having come from a wealthy family, Saint Nicholas would throw a bag of gold through the window during the late night. Sometimes the gold would land in the shoes (or maybe the stockings) drying by the fire. Saint Nicholas would do this every night in secret as he believed God’s work is done with humility. The father soon had enough gold for dowries and to arrange honorable marriages for his daughters saving them from a life of disgrace and great pain.
During the Protestant reform in the 16th and 17th centuries, celebrating Saint Days became forbidden in Europe but the tradition of gift-giving to children from a kind, loving, jolly man was permitted and moved to Christmas Eve, the night before Christ’s birth is celebrated. Some of the aspects of Sinterklaas managed to survive but most of the traditions of the American Christmas and the Santa Claus we have today, have only been developed over the last 200 years. The first immigrants to live in America did not bring any of the Saint Nicholas traditions with them. It was not until the American Revolution, that settlers began bringing over surviving Christmas traditions of Saint Nicholas.
Historians believe that it was the Dutch and Swiss-German settlers that brought the Saint Nicholas traditions to America around the middle 1770s. The first mention of calling the loving, gift-giver to children, Santa Claus, was in 1773 in the New-York Gazetteer. It is believed that Santa Claus is derived from Sinterklaas as Santa is derived from the word Saint. In 1821, “Old Santeclaus with much Delight” was published in New York by William B. Gilley with the author’s name not given. In this children’s book, Santeclaus is pulled in a sleigh full of presents by a reindeer through the snow to deliver gifts to children who have been good. In 1823, an anonymous poem was published in the New York Sentinel that we now know as “The Night Before Christmas”. The poem gave the current version of Santa Claus a big shot of stardom because it became wildly popular. Both the 1821 children’s book, and the 1823 poem, are thought to be authored by Clement Clarke Moore despite the fact they were both published anonymously.
In 1863, a cartoonist by the name of Thomas Nast, began drawing Santa and over the years, mostly in New York, carefully crafting much of the version of the Santa we have today. Haddon Sundblom, an artist from Muskegon, Michigan, created the modern-day version of Santa Claus in an illustration rendered to the New York Times in 1927 elaborating on Thomas Nast’s illustrations. Sundblom also used his own image to create the Santa Claus image used in the early 1900s. Coca Cola began using Sundblom to create Santa Claus illustrations in their advertising beginning in 1931. From there, the red-suited, white-bearded, jolly, plump, Santa Claus became the popular character who, today, delivers toys on Christmas Eve to children in America and sells Coca-Cola, let’s not forget that.
As an Orthodox Christian, it is my hope that America honors Saint Nicholas as a part of their December festivities so that Christmas keeps more of the true meaning of unselfish giving, along with celebrating Christ’s birth. Of course, the Orthodox church, itself, recognizes and honors all Saints on their Names Day including Saint Nicholas. It is my hope, that Americans realize that the true act of Christmas giving of time and gifts to children and those in need, began oh so many years ago, by Saint Nicholas, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia – the Patron Saint of children, sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, prostitutes, brewers, pawnbrokers, and students. To read more about the wondrous works of Saint Nicholas, click here.
Retrieved December 19, 2019 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinterklaas
Retrieved December 19, 2019 from https://literature.fandom.com/wiki/Old_Santeclaus_with_Much_Delight
Retrieved December 19, 2019 from https://www.ctcumc.org/newsdetail/669441
Retrieved December 19, 2019 from https://www.etymonline.com/word/Santa%20Claus
Retrieved December 19, 2019 from https://www.history.com/topics/christmas/santa-claus
Retrieved December 19, 2019 from https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/12/22/santa-claus-around-the-world-the-legendary-figure-goes-by-many-names-in-many-countries/
Retrieved December 19, 2019 from https://www.nyhistory.org/exhibit/visit-st-nicholas
Retrieved December 19, 2019 from https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/0577/12/06/103484-saint-nicholas-the-wonderworker-archbishop-of-myra-in-lycia
Retrieved December 19, 2019 from https://www.stnicholascenter.org/