THE KIND OLD MAN FROM NORTH POLE OR THE MYTHOLOGICAL PERSON?
“Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.”
He is the most favorite man among the children, the timeless hero of our childhood and the romantic reflection of old, good times. He is Santa Claus, the friendly grandpa dressed in dominant red clothes mixed with white, the synonym of snowy December, Christmas and sharing. There is no person that has not experienced the symbolic moments of waiting for Santa Claus coming from the roof into the house, through the chimney.
The magic of Christmas is not only because of the presents under the Christmas tree, it is about the belief that there is one old man who observes people and gives them exactly what they deserve. It is almost like a living the whole year in one moral box, thinking about the judge outside the box and the punishments or awards we will get if we do (not) play the right accords. Santa Claus is something like a civil version of God. His role in child’s life is more than educational. It has also the ethic elements. The families could be oriented as religious or atheistic but the portrait of Santa Claus is the same for all children, no matter where they live and how they think.
Nevertheless, there is a story, real or fictional, about this beloved old man with beard, who was born as Nicholas in third century, in the village of Patara. At that time, Patara was Greek and now it is the southern coast of Turkey. The young Nicholas was devout Christian due to his parents’ active religious life. Unfortunately, they died in an epidemic and left Nicholas alone but very rich. He was very kind and generous and he tried to help people in needs, to follow the Jesus life of humility. He was serving God, bringing light there where was only darkness. It did not take long time so he was made Bishop of Myra but he was known as protector of children and sailors: „Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic called manna formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar).”
He helped the people who suffered from famine, those who had not homes and those who had not hopes. Nicholas did not help because he wanted something to get back; he wanted to help because his soul has been created for kindness and goodness. Even after his death, considered as a saint, his tomb in Myra became a place of pilgrimage. The Christians have been afraid that the enemies, during the wars, will destroy St. Nicholas tomb so the bones have been moved to Bari and beautiful Basilica di San Nicola is the pride of Bari as well as the Saint.
I find very interesting actually the transformation of St. Nicholas into the Santa Claus in human’s hearts. After the Reformation hit the northern Europe in the 16th century, the roman-catholic tales about kind bishop have been replaced with the urban legends from the UK and European north. The English people imagined the Father Christmas who delivered presents to children at Christmas and the French called him Père Nöel. The German tradition shaped the Christkind while the first Dutch settlers in the USA came out with the name Kris Kringle that has been, some years later, changed into Sinterklaas or Santa Claus. The historians write: „Many countries, especially ones in Europe, celebrate St. Nicholas’ Day on 6th December. In Holland and some other European Countries, children leave clogs or shoes out on the 5th December (St. Nicholas Eve) to be filled with presents. They also believe that if they leave some hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas’s horse, they will be left some sweets.”
The British Father Christmas and American Sinterklass have merged into magical Santa Claus that became a symbol of Christmas sharing, gifts and hopes. The powerful old man that travels through the sky on a sledge with reindeer and gets into the houses, through the chimneys, giving the presents to the good kids and inspiring the naughty ones, is a picture of comfort zone for individual and social spirit. Without him, the world would not fall apart but it would not be the same. The big and scary emptiness would eat up the future of children souls, offering hopeless existence. Santa Claus is more than a bedtime story or funny grandpa from cozy childhood. It is a shelter for the children, their last stand against the bites of the monster of difficult and grey reality. He is showing us that the crucial values will never be old-fashioned and that the kindness as well as good heart will always be on the top of the spirituality and the ethic blood in the veins of humankind.
Why Santa Claus is always related to the rot color? Some people have believed that Santa Claus is a successful designed product of Coca Cola but this is not truth. Coca Cola has involved him in its own high-tech campaign since 1920s, but the red color leads us back to the St. Nicholas time. Our bishop had always worn a red robe. However, the modern image of Santa Claus started with the illustrations of St. Nick by Thomas Nast for the magazine Harper’s Weekly, in January 1863. The unforgettable portrait of Santa Claus in “Stars and Stripes” outfit created by Nast crawled into the hearts of millions children worldwide. When Coke adopted the funny old man and related to its famous Coke truck, the feeling of Santa Claus’s Christmas was forever changed into the sign of Coca Cola. It is amazing how powerful is good advertising and advanced marketing. The Coke machinery turned the Santa Claus and Christmas sharing into the commercial field and took away the real spirit and purpose of giving and receiving the gifts.
From marvelous bishop in red, guardians of the sailors to the sky traveler from Lappland, Santa Claus is an urban legend that keeps our children comforted and sheltered within the cruel world of insanity. Every year, on the Christmas Eve, we are all looking forward for a moment of that Santa Claus’s magic, for a dust in the wind, the sign that he is coming into the town, together with holidays. We are all seeking for that little piece of hope, love and fantasy able to move our ordinary lives into the extraordinary stories. That is the best gift ever, staying child deep within and believing that good things are on the road.
Happy St. Nicholas Day.