• Peter Humphris

Who is Santa - is it You?

As we approach Christmas, we will most probably hear (often in song) one of two dominant stories that the Christmas tradition celebrates.

There is the story with Santa (Father Christmas) as the central character, and then the story with Baby Jesus in the central role.

Over the many years of celebrating Christmas both stories have suffered a corruption of their original meaning and purpose...

So, a quick recap and then a fact check to look back to the origins of both stories and perhaps we’ll discover something even better than the version that is sung so often today.

The Father Christmas story evolved from early merrymaking to celebrate the seasons change and the ‘coming of light’ in the Northern hemisphere. Around the 15th century the personification of the ‘father’ Christmas character began in Britain and gained promotion (albeit negative) during the puritan revolution when for 15 years from around 1644 the celebration of Christmas in England was forbidden.

The figure of Santa Claus originated in the US, drawing at least partly upon Dutch St Nicolas traditions and in the mid-19th Century that story crossed the Atlantic and became known in England.

Any remaining distinctions between Father Christmas and Santa Claus largely faded away in the early years of the new century, and it was reported in 1915, "The majority of children to-day ... do not know of any difference between our old Father Christmas and the comparatively new Santa Claus, as, by both wearing the same garb, they have effected a happy compromise."

In the conflation of St Nicolas with Santa we have the origins of ‘giving’, for one of the legends associated with ‘Saint Nick’ is that he is said to have rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping a sack of gold coins through the window of their house each night for three nights so their father could pay a dowry for each of them.

The ‘Baby Jesus’ story was originally created to underline the special nature of the man Jesus, and it too has echoes of the ‘other’ characters, it tells of the coming of light both through the nativity star and the claim “I am the light of the world”. This version also has three gifts like St Nick’s legend; and once again the gifts are given to another more vulnerable (a baby), and so more deserving.

The creation of the nativity story was not a recording of events, but rather a deliberate story in mystical terms to emphasise the work and words of Jesus. And when we look to his work and words, we very much see self-less giving (like St Nick) as the central theme.

So now, when we fact-check the Christmas stories we can look beyond the primary promotions of today and discover a number of delightful insights that might help us truly celebrate Christmas.

1. It’s not all about Christmas shopping and Christmas specials, it’s about sharing what we already have.

2. It is not intended to create landfill, rather it celebrates the coming of light at the end of the climate change tunnel.

3. It calls us to look ahead to a better tomorrow.

4. And asks us to celebrate life, a knowing that we can give life to those in need.

I really like Christmas, and I like to eat, drink and be merry for the whole twelve days. It is a time of remembering, and a time of giving. To my friends I give a donation to IGWR-Nepal; it’s a delightful gift that gives twice, for my friends receive the gift of being given to, and the kids in Nepal receive the opportunity of a better tomorrow.

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