Oh Christmas, that wonderful time of the year. It is the time of bringing people together, sharing simple things with each other. It is the one time of the year where you meet that difficult uncle or go back to your childhood home. Sounds familiar to you?
For Catholics and Christians, it is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. While this is the most popular holiday during the winter season, there are also other holidays from other religions that are celebrated during this period like “Hanukkah”. It is the time to decorate the house and organize dinners with family and friends.
It is the time for forgiveness, gift giving (and receiving) and the time to care for others. How many times have you heard these phrases:
- “It’s Christmas! Don’t be like that!”
- “Where is your Christmas Spirit?”
- and the classic one “Don’t be a Grinch!”
There are people who argue that we should have this attitude of caring and forgiveness during the whole year. It is not an easy task to fulfill but is necessary since there is much fear and hate instigated especially through social media.
One thing I still don’t understand of the Christmas Holiday season is the story of Santa Claus and its relation to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The two Christmas symbols that were taught to us is baby Jesus and Santa Claus or Saint Nicholas. I have watched many movies of Santa Claus, his assistants the little green dressed elves (which look a lot like the elves of Ireland) and Rudolf the Red nose Reindeer.
Santa Claus: an enigma
Santa Claus is still an enigma to me. What is the limit of its magic? What does he do during the year? I know, these may seem like silly questions but if we see this as a fantasy, you have to admit that the story is intriguing. And maybe that is why the symbol still lives in modern times.
Santa Claus is like the Easter Bunny, I don’t quite see the correlation between the symbol and the holiday (yet). We know that Saint Nicholas actually existed, a man dressed in a long red robe with a white beard who brings gifts and candy to children on December 6th.
As the story goes a number of Dutch immigrants who sailed to the New World (later known as New York) brought their devotion for Saint Nicholas with them. The Dutch kept most of their cultural traditions, including the celebration of Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas) on December 6th. The Americans liked the patriarchal figure and adopted him in their culture. Unable to pronounce Sinterklaas, they instead called him Santa Claus.
The Christians of that time ended with two holidays dedicated to children in the same month; the first on December 6th dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and the second on December 25th celebrating the birth of Christ. The Americans made it simple for them and combined the two holidays into one.
What was once the celebration of a Saint and of the birth of Christ became a festivity dedicated to children and gift-giving. It became a tradition to see an image of Santa with children sitting on his knees telling him their Christmas presents wish list. Therefore Santa got a growing popularity that is prominent till today.
However, the Christians at that time thought that Saint Nicholas started to draw too much attention away from Christ. In Germany, parents were encouraged to teach their children that the Christ Child was the gift-giver.
Santa Claus and Christmas
So why is Santa Claus still such a powerful symbol? The long lasting popularity may have an explanation. The answer will be probably because of all the marketing campaign by corporations that supported the symbol of Santa through the years.
Santa Claus is still present with the help of various media like newspaper articles, poems, books, postcards, sketches and advertising. As a result, he is no longer Saint Nicholas or Sinterklaas.
He is an entirely different character transformed into a media deity, a supernatural being whose mission is no longer helping children in distress but a marketing tool. Thanks to this Santa has reached the smallest and farthest places in the world. The media has become the new intermediary between the corporations and the consumer: a provider of the good news.
Corporate media basically displaced the Saint as the mediator between the sacred and the believers and imposed itself to the people. It provides televised models of conduct setting new grounds for acceptable behavior, which were previously preached by Saint Nicholas based on moral principles.
We should be able to remember that the Christmas Holidays were originally all about and not give that much importance on the commercialization of the Holiday. Gift-giving would be nicer when we are talking about a meaningful gift. A sentimental gift has more emotional value than an expensive gift. Material things will somehow disappear and lose their value, a gift with an emotional value will be treasured forever.
As we are entering into the Holidays (I don’t know about you but these days people in my circles are very busy buying decorations, painting their houses, planning Dinners, etc) I hope we will be able to enjoy these Holidays with our loved ones: care for each other, forgive each other and enjoy each other’s company (those are the most important things).
These are my two cents regarding Santa Claus and Christmas but don’t worry I am not done yet. You may be wondering what’s with Santa Claus vs Sinterklaas? In the next article I will explore the history around these two symbols. So stay Tuned!
What is your view on the commercialization of Christmas? Are we going too far sometimes with the gift-buying and gift-giving (Like people’s attitude on Black Friday)? Are we forgetting the true meaning of these holidays? Feel free to leave your comments. I would love to hear from you.