Summary: The title says it all.
Well it won’t be long now. Just eight more days and it will be Christmas Eve and then we all know what happens then right? That’s right, Santa comes. Whether we like to admit it or not the primary figure in most homes this Christmas won’t be Jesus it will be Santa. And we can rant and rave about losing the true meaning of Christmas, and talk about how Santa’s sleigh has replaced Christ’s stable but it won’t make any difference. And the mere mention of Santa can cause some Christians to almost froth at the mouth. When I was in my last year in Bible College I worked in a store that sold wood stoves. My boss attended a small independent church and wasn’t the least bit backwards about coming forward with his point of view. One of the things he held a fairly strong view on was Santa. That might be a slight understatement, he didn’t hold a fairly strong view, he was rabid on the subject. That Christmas he informed me that he had told his three children ranging in age from a toddler to early elementary that Santa was and I quote, “A manifestation of Satan to take the glory away from Jesus.”
I really didn’t have any dealings with others who were quite that vocal about Christmas and Santa until we moved to Australia and while I was there I ended up with two gentlemen in my church who were both very outspoken about the pagan background of Christmas in general and Santa in particular. And I remember once when Scott was waxing eloquently on the subject that I asked him, “Do you know what you get if you rearrange the letters in Santa?” He nodded in agreement and before he had a chance to respond I finished by saying, “Yeah, Natsa” and walked away while he looked confused. Anyone who has the least bit of animosity toward the fat man in the red suit knows that if you rearrange the letters in his name you get Satan. So? If you rearrange the letters in my name you get Ned spelled wrong.
So before we can go any further we probably should introduce the topic of my message today. Santa Claus wasn’t always Santa Claus, his roots actually go back 1700 years when a man by the name of Nicholas was Bishop of the city or Myra. If we were to pull up our trusty map here, we would discover that Myra is situated here, on the coast of Turkey. Tradition tells us that Nicholas was born into a wealthy family and was orphaned as a child because of the plague. He became a priest in his late teens and was known for his generosity. During the Roman persecutions of the Christians he was imprisoned and wasn’t released until the Emperor Constantine became a believer.
Legend tells us that he took gifts to the children of poor families and would deliver them but dropping them down their chimneys. One story tells of how Nicholas heard of a family with three daughters who couldn’t marry because they had now dowry. Nicholas snuck into their home and left gold coins in the socks the girls had left hanging on the mantle to dry. Guess back then it wasn’t a matter of marrying for looks or loves it all boiled down the money.
After his death the Church pronounced him a Saint and when Christmas started being celebrated, St. Nicholas became a part of the celebration.
When the Reformation took place, the new Protestants no longer desired St. Nicholas as their gift-giver as he was too closely tied to the Catholic Church. Therefore, each country or region developed their own gift-giver. In France he was known as Pere Noel. In England he was Father Christmas. Germany knew him as Weihnachtsmann (Christmas man). When the communists took over in Russia and outlawed Christianity, the Russians began to call him Grandfather Frost, who wore blue instead of the traditional red. To the Dutch, he was Sinterklaas (which eventually was mispronounced in America and became Santa Claus). As different as they were in their names and garb they all had long white beards and carried gifts for the children.
The Santa we know today had his beginnings in 1823 with Clement C. Moore’s "A Visit from St. Nicholas" in which he described St. Nicholas as "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf". Forty years later, Thomas Nast, political cartoonist, created a different illustration each year of Santa for the cover of Harper’s Weekly. His Santa was a plump, jolly old fellow with a white beard and smoking a long stemmed pipe. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln asked Nast to do an illustration showing Santa with the Union troops. Many historians say this was one of the most demoralizing moments for the Confederate army....seeing Santa side with the North.