Good Morning December 12, 2016

Good morning on this the twelfth day of December, in the year of our Lord 2016.

The topic of Santa Claus is an interesting one. Last year I did some informal research into the origins of Santa Claus, and it seems like Santa Claus originated with the poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, better known as Twas the Night Before Christmas. (The name Santa Claus itself being presumed to be a corruption of the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself a corruption of Saint Nicholas.) There are precursor figures that Santa Claus was undoubtedly drawn from, though for example the English figure of Father Christmas wasn’t very close.

One thing that has puzzled me about the later Santa Claus lore in relation to the poem is that the poem is fairly clear that the sleigh and reindeer traveled along the ground and essentially jumped up to the rooftop:

“To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall!
“Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!”
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys‍—‌and St. Nicholas too

That pretty clearly does not describe descending from the sky but rising from the ground. Be that as it may, the common practice of presenting the myth of Santa Claus to children causes not a small amount of controversy, and though not the same as the original controversy around Christmas, it does bear some relationship. Originally protestants (or at a minimum English protestants, but I think it was most of them) were dead-set against Christmas as a papist tradition. Merriment and celebration don’t really go well with doctrines like the total depravity of man. (Luther is his own basket of contradictions, but his view of human nature was at best rosy only by comparison to Calvin’s; Luther thought that the saved would be smuggled into heaven, clothed by Christ, like snow-covered dung hills. Merry Christmas.)

In modern times the controversy is rather around the veracity of what is told to Children than that a good time is had by all, but there is the similarity of two camps around Christmas celebrations, one of which seems decidedly less jolly than the other.

Having said that, I myself have attempted to thread a middle ground. We do some of the rituals involved with Santa Claus, but at the same time I don’t tell my children anything factually inaccurate. The truth is, after all, pretty good: Saint Nicholas was a bishop who lived many centuries ago and was known for his love of, and kindness to, children. In his honor we give gifts to children in his name, continuing the celebration of generosity to those least able to give in return. Thus presents labeled as being from Santa Claus are, in that sense, from him, though we as our children’s parents also take part in that gift. It makes sense to my children according to their age and ability to understand, and doesn’t seem in any way to diminish their fun at listening to me reading the poem, or to getting gifts from Santa Claus, or the rest of it. Most of the time they talk as if the stories of Santa Claus are literally true anyway. The stories are, in any event, figuratively true.

God bless you.

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