If Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, where did Santa come from?
Yes, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus. It wasn’t until 325 years after his birth that the Roman Emperor made all the people celebrate his birth on the shortest day of the year, called the winter solstice. There was a group of people in the Roman Empire at that time that worshiped the seasons of the year, and so the Roman Emperor changed the date of the Christian holiday that celebrated the birth of Jesus to the date of the Pagan holiday that worshiped the winter solstice. This is one of the things that the emperor did to try to unite all the people in his Empire.
As the years went by lots of different customs that were part of the way of life of Christians in different parts of the world became part of the celebration of Christmas. We have the Christmas tree, Christmas presents, the lights on the tree, the star on the top of the tree, a log burning in the fireplace, and lots of special foods, like fruit cake, cider, turkey, egg nog, etc. that associated with the Christmas season.
Different countries celebrate Christmas in different ways. In some countries where the Catholic Church is the predominant religion, Christmas is a very religious holiday. Instead of giving presents on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, the people go to church and celebrate a midnight mass. The children don’t receive presents until the 6th of January, 12 days after Christmas. This is the time that they celebrate the coming of the Three Kings from the Orient bringing presents to the Christ child. On the 12th day of Christmas the children put their shoes either outside their bedroom doors, or on the doorsteps of their houses, and the Three Kings come by that night and fill the shoes with presents.
Of course, the customs also change in any country as times change. When I was a boy, we went out into the hills in the early part of December and chopped down a Christmas tree and hauled it home on our sled. To decorate the tree, we threaded long strings with pieces of popcorn and cranberries. The alternating red and white made a pretty decoration. We also made chains of red and green pieces of paper by gluing strips of paper into interlocking rings, and we hung them around the tree. We also attached candles onto the branches and lit the candles, something that would never be done today. They were very pretty, but it was a terrible fire hazard, and lots of accidents happened because of it.
The idea of a Santa Claus started a very long time ago in what is now Turkey. Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna (now Turkey), lived in the 4th century A.D. He was very rich, generous, and loving toward children. Often he gave joy to poor children by throwing gifts in through their windows. The Eastern Orthodox Church looked upon St. Nicholas as a miracle worker, and held him in high esteem. It was in his honor that Russia’s oldest church was built.
In the Roman Catholic Church St. Nicholas was the saint who helped children and poor people. In the Roman Catholic Church each saint has a special day. St. Nicholas’ Day is on the 6th of December.
St. Nicholas became known in England as Father Christmas, and in Holland he was called Sinter Klaas. Dutch immigrants brought their Sinter Klaas (Santa Claus) with them to New York in the 17th century. In 1823 Clement Clarke Moore wrote the poem, “The Night Before Christmas,” and that poem did a lot to fix in the minds of the American people the idea of “Santa Claus” and his eight tiny reindeer. The ninth reindeer–Rudolph, the red nosed reindeer–didn’t come along until 1939. He was invented by an advertising writer for the Montgomery Ward Company.
But all of these customs were built up to help us remember that 2000 years ago the Virgin Mary gave birth to a little boy in an obscure village called Bethlehem. She and her husband, Joseph, went there to pay their taxes. So many people went at that time that all the places to stay were filled up and they had to stay in a barn. And that night the little boy they called Jesus was born on a pile of hay that was used to feed the cattle. That little boy grew up to be the Savior of all mankind. When he was only thirty-three years old he was put to death by wicked men. But before he died he suffered to pay for all the wrong things that have been done by all the people that will have ever lived in the world. He did this so that we won’t have to be punished by God for the bad things that we do, if we change our lives and don’t do them anymore.
So Christmas is a very special time to remember the baby Jesus who is now the King of the World and our Lord and Master. We love him as no other and hope that you will learn to love him too,