Is the jolly man in the red suit with a long white beard real? Did he first appear in Coca-Cola ads? At department stores? Illustrating the poem, T’was the Night Before
Christmas? And more importantly, how does he relate to Souls on Mission? And what do we teach our children about him?
The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, born to a wealthy family during the third century in Asia Minor, then Greece, now Turkey. His parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic. Obeying Jesus’ words, Nicholas gave all that he had to the poor, the sick, and the suffering. Later, when he was Bishop of Myra, he became famous for these saintly deeds. He also suffered for his faith and was exiled and imprisoned under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians. After his release, Bishop Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325.
The anniversary of his death, December 6, became a feast day of celebration. When a person lived as long ago as St. Nicholas, it is sometimes difficult to separate fact from legend. All the stories, however, tell us about his character and help us understand this “soul on mission.”
St. Nicholas did many kind and generous acts. He did them in secret, expecting nothing in return. Stories tell of his rescuing sailors, relieving famine, sparing the lives of children, and protecting the innocent. Within a century of his death, he was named a saint and came to be regarded as the special friend of children, bakers, sailors, merchants, and many others.
St. Nicholas’ December 6 feast day came to be celebrated in many European countries. This kept alive stories of St. Nicholas’ goodness and generosity. Waves of European immigrants brought St. Nicholas and his beloved traditions to the New World. Colonial Germans in Pennsylvania, for example, celebrated the St. Nicholas Feast. Santa Claus is a natural phonetic alteration from the German Sankt Niklaus and the Dutch Sinterklaas. Americans merged St. Nicholas with the English Father Christmas as part of December 25 Christmas celebrations.
In 1809 Washington Irving created a jolly St. Nicholas character in his Knickerbocker’s History of New York. This jolly elf image was strengthened in 1823 by the highly popular A Visit from St. Nicholas poem now better known as T’was the Night Before Christmas. Thomas Nast’s Harper’s Magazine Santa illustrations continued shifting St. Nicholas from a bishop to a secular symbol of seasonal cheer. Coca-Cola and Pepsi advertisements by artists Haddon Sundblom and Norman Rockwell in the 1930s completed the transformation into the Santa we know today.
Along with the name change, St. Nicholas’ image was also transformed. Originally dressed in bishops’ robes with a tall miter and carrying a crozier (shepherd’s staff), he came to be dressed in a red suit with white fur trim. As Santa he then began turning up in department stores and on street corners, as a benign source of seasonal beneficence.
On Friday, December 6 at 7:00p, All Souls will hold its annual celebration of the Feast of St. Nicholas with:
- a short dramatization of St Nick’s life and ministry,
- gifts for the Outreach Community Center Christmas Store (bring your unwrapped gifts on Dec 6),
- a cookie exchange for those who would like a variety of cookies for holiday entertaining,
- the St. Nicholas Shoppe, especially for children’s Christmas shopping (all gifts for $1)
- special treats & crafts, and
- suggestions for how to celebrate St Nicholas’ Feast Day and develop Advent traditions.
If you have gently used items that might be appropriate for children to purchase at the St. Nicholas Shoppe, please bring them to church. The evening is appropriate for the entire church family, young and old, married and single. So, please join us!