Q: Why is Santa Claus such a pervasive symbol at Christmastime? It seems the focus is a little skewed………. Jane. S
A: Although many cultures have variations of their own, Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, or just Santa, is a figure with legendary, historical, and folkloric aspects. In many western cultures he is said to bring gifts to good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas eve, December 24. The modern figure was derived from the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas, which in turn may have a basis in the historical gift giver of Saint Nicholas.
Saint Nicholas of Myra was a 4th century Greek bishop of Myra, from what is now Turkey. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. In Europe, primarily The Netherlands, Belguim, Austria, and Germany, he is still portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes. Among the Germanic folklore there is a reference to the similarities of Odin, a major god, before their Christianization. According to the legend children would leave hay and carrots in their boots at night for Odin’s flying horse, and he would leave candy and gifts.
In The Netherlands Sinterklaas is aided by a helper commonly known as Zwarte Piet (Black Peter). The feast on December 6 came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts. However the Dutch celebrate on the evening of December 5 in a celebration called “pakjesavond,” gift giving. During the Reformation in the 16th –17th century many Protestants and others changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child, and the date of gift giving changed to Christmas Eve.
As a young child we celebrated our gift exchange on the evening of December 5, and when we came to the United States it was a shock to see how different the culture was. The religious significance of the Christmas season seemed overshadowed and in the ensuing years it has become even more pervasive.
Everywhere you turn there is pressure to buy buy buy. Businesses survive or fail dependent on how much they sell in December. Santa seems to epitomize this overindulgence.
In my business, the workers borrow large sums each year at Christmas to buy gifts so their children don’t feel that Santa has forgotten them They take nearly a year to pay off the debt, just in time to do it again the following year. A little truth and honesty would go a long way here, I think.
My four children didn’t seem to suffer from not being lied to for years on end; I, however, was not very popular with the parents of their friends. Each year I would receive calls from angry parents insisting that they wanted to continue promoting the story and give credit for all their hard work to a large fat icon that somehow managed to make it everywhere at the same time on Christmas Eve.
In the next column we will list some things your family can do to bring in more Christmas spirit and not get so caught up in the buying frenzy.
Have a question, or is there something you’ve always wondered about? Ask Madalyn invites your questions.
- Monday, 12 December 2011
- Posted in Categories: : Ask Madalyn