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Jolly Old St. Nick, indeed

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Contrary to what most people think, the trappings of Christmas are not based on Jesus Christ of the Bible, but are deeply rooted in pre-Christian oral legends, sanitized by theologians, historians and, in some instances, the editorial rooms of more modern times. Of all these legends, none has grown to the stature and popularity of that of Santa Claus.

And when it comes to Santa Claus, there is no greater example of "sanitizing" legend than the 1897 New York Sun editorial by Francis P. Church entitled "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus." It became one of the most famous editorials in American history and was singularly instrumental in shaping the way the world views Christmas today.

Nearly every nation around the world has a legend about this "Jolly old elf" that brings such joy and pleasure to good little boys and girls. But what is really behind this supposed symbol of professing Christianity that rivals even the concept of Jesus Christ as central to the Christmas celebration?

Thor was the god of the peasants and the common people. He was represented as an elderly man, jovial and friendly, of heavy build, with a long white beard. His element was the fire, his colour red. The rumble and roar of thunder were said to be caused by the rolling of his chariot, for he alone among the gods never rode on horseback but drove in a chariot drawn by two white goats (called Cracker and Gnasher). He was fighting the giants of ice and snow, and thus became the Yule-god. He was said to live in the "Northland" where he had his palace among icebergs. By our pagan forefathers he was considered as the cheerful and friendly god, never harming the humans but rather helping and protecting them. The fireplace in every home was especially sacred to him, and he was said to come down through the chimney into his element, the fire. (Myths of Northern Lands, H. A. Grueber, Vol. I, New York, 1895).

Not even the Catholic Church buys the religious connection of Santa Claus with their pantheon of "saints":

Many people think that Santa Claus is St. Nicholas "in disguise." Actually the two figures have nothing in common except the name. When the Dutch came to America and established the colony of New Amsterdam, their children enjoyed the traditional "visit of St. Nicholas" on December 5, for the Dutch had kept this ancient Catholic custom even after the Reformation. Later, when England founded the colony of New York in the same territory, the kindly figure of Sinter Klaas (pronounced like Santa Claus) soon aroused the desire among the English children of having such a heavenly visitor come to their own homes, too. [They, too, recognize the Norse connection] … It certainly was a stroke of genius that produced such a charming and attractive figure for our children from the withered pages of pagan mythology. With the Christian saint, however, whose name he still bears, this Santa Claus has really nothing to do. To be historically correct we would rather have to call him "Father Thor" or some such name (www.catholicculture.org, search "Santa Claus").

God, through His Word, the Holy Bible, has much to say about "sanitizing" pagan customs and symbols in the matter of worshiping Him. Jesus declared: "And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments [precepts] of men" (Mark 7:7). Jesus went on to show that men do not have the right to alter worship practices to suit themselves (v. 8–9).

You need to examine the soft, fuzzy, warm feelings of seasonal family traditions, with the colors, smells, sounds and flavors. Where did they come from? Can they be found in the Word of God? Does God really approve you worshipping Him, or His son this way? Read our important article Is Christmas Christian?, and "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 1:3).

  Originally Published: 21st December 2005