Archive | December, 2015

The Myth of Santa Claus

23 Dec

Let’s start by stating a simple fact: Santa Claus is an entirely American invention and cultural export which has been popularised through American Literature, Hollywood film and advertising (eg Coca-Cola™).

The modern Santa Claus has nothing to do with the Dutch Sinterklass (Santa Claus coming from low German) and little to do with the much older Father Christmas tradition. Most of Santa Claus’ attributes were contrived from Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit from St Nicholas” (a hotchpotch of largely unrelated anthropological data).

Yet, the popularity of Santa Claus owes as much to politics (the desire to reduce English cultural influences following Independence) and the national spirit of consumerism as it does to the schmaltz of Hollywood Christmas films and Moore’s poem.

If we contrast Sinterklass (St Nicolas) with Santa Claus, though both are said to bring gifts to children (as do the Three Kings in Mediterranean countries), they are completely different.

Sinterklass is a bishop (with a basis in real history), who supposedly lives in Spain whence he arrives on a steamship; he rides through the streets on a white horse during the day, and is aided by a black servant Zwarte Piet; he distributes his gifts on 6th December (the feast day of St Nicolas).

Santa Claus is a magical being with no historical basis, who supposedly lives at the North Pole, where he is aided by an army of elves; Santa rides a sleigh drawn by flying reindeer during the night of Christmas Eve and, mimicking Father Christmas, he distributes his gifts on 24th December.

Likewise, despite the much more ancient Father Christmas having been assimilated into the modern Santa Claus as though they were one and the same, contrasting Father Christmas’  original form with that of Santa Claus highlights significant differences between them.

Father Christmas was a personification of Christmas who was traditionally associated with adult revelry and drinking (showing his older pagan origins); with beneficence of feudal landlords to their tenants; and, later, with charitable giving to the poor. He had absolutely nothing to do with children or gift giving.

Santa Claus, who is seen as being not so much the personification of Christmas as of the “magic of Christmas”, is entirely associated with gift giving, and especially gift giving to children through the filling of their Christmas stockings. Some organisations (eg the Salvation Army, Rotary Club) dress their street collectors in Santa outfits in the run up to Christmas in an attempt to increase giving.

So what we have, in our time, is a Santa Claus who is a corrupted amalgamation of much older traditions, moulded by materialism and forged by infantile fantasy.

Santa – an anagram of Satan – only encourages selfish greed and (ever more elaborate) lying. His purpose, guised as a generous, harmless old man, is to divert attention away from the Christ Child and the mystery of the Incarnation.  Yet, without Christ there can be no Christ´s mass, just a celebration of the Winter Solstice, in which the rebirth of the sun is substituted for the birth of God’s only Son, with overindulgence and the accumulation of often wholly unnecessary possessions being the order of the day.