The First Santa Claus
By Ed Butchart
Author, More Pages from the Red Suit Diaries
CBN.com There have been some constants in all of my Santa Claus encounters. I still hear the same questions again and again, and I still answer them as though it’s the first time I’ve ever heard them. Many times this gives me a chance to give a minisermon about the significance of Christmas, and I welcome the opportunity. One of my favorite questions has to do with the roots of Santa’s role in the Christmas celebration.
A lot of people don’t know the legend of Santa Claus, so they have the mistaken opinion that Santa is a pagan figure with no relationship to the birth of Jesus Christ. Many of them have strong feelings against having Santa included in church celebrations. Unfortunately, some Santas don’t know the history either and do a poor job of explaining the connection.
The details are a bit obscure, since they go back hundreds of years. But there is no disputing the fact that the legend of Santa is based on a real man – and not just any man, but a bishop of the early church. His parents had died in one of the devastating plagues that swept Europe. This man, whose name was Nicholas, was left with a large inheritance. And though he was just a boy when his parents passed away, he found himself with the responsibility of caring for the church in his hometown of Myra, a small village in what is modern-day Turkey. Nicholas grew into a strong, healthy man and was very active in his community. When he was elected bishop, he was still quite young.
Aware of many needy families in his small village, he used his money to make their lives easier. Sometimes a family needed a specific item, and it would miraculously appear overnight. For example, there was a poor family with four daughters and no way to pay a dowry so that the daughters could marry. As the girls matured one by one, the money required to pay the dowry would mysteriously appear. The coins would be found in the elder sister’s shoes or stockings, which were hung by the fireplace to dry.
Acts of generosity spread throughout the parish – and so did theories about where the funds and items had come from. Nicholas always crept through the village very late at night, and since he knew everyone, even all the dogs, he was not confronted by a single creature. After the “miracles” had been told and retold, the stories began to spread beyond the borders of his country. Finally he was unmasked, but the legends, now attributed to Bishop Nicholas, continued to spread.
His parishioners began to call him Saint Nicholas. Years later the church would canonize him, making the title official. As the stories and legends spread throughout Europe, his name was transliterated. From Sint Nikolaas (Dutch for Saint Nicholas), it became the nickname Sinter Klaas in the Netherlands and was ultimately brought to the New World by Dutch immigrants. Eventually the name was anglicized to Santa Claus. This is, of course, a very abridged history. The full story of this man is quite remarkable. Perhaps that’s the reason there are more churches in the world named for Saint Nicholas than for any other saint.
Clement Clark Moore (or Henry Livingston Jr., as some contend) wrote the poem “Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” (later known as “The Night Before Christmas”). This poem and the illustrations by Thomas Nast, a Civil War-era cartoonist, helped refine the modern image of Santa Claus. Then Haddon Sunbloom, the artist for the Coca-Cola advertisements of the 1930s and ‘40s, further developed the image into the Santa Claus we recognize today. The legend of Santa Claus has nothing to do with paganism and nothing to do with the Antichrist, but many people think this because they don’t know the real history of Santa Claus. That’s the reason I enjoy being Santa and sharing this true message of love, acceptance, and generosity.
Ed Butchart has been playing Santa professionally for nearly two decades.
Read his story.
Read another excerpt from Ed Butchart's book.
Purchase your copy of Ed Butchart's More Pages from the Red Suit Diaries.
Purchase Butchart's previous book, The Red Suit Diaries.
Excerpted from More Pages from the Red Suit Diaries by Ed Butchart. Used by permission of Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright © 2008. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group.
More new releases and author interviews
CBN IS HERE FOR YOU!
Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.