Santa Claus, St. Nicholas and Jesus

WHEN my K was three years old, I told her that Christmas is actually the birthday of Jesus. Her reaction was, “Really?!? It’s His birthday too?”

On hindsight, it’s really easy for that fact to get lost in the many consumer related trappings of the modern Christmas. After all, what is the percentage of nativity scenes versus all the Santa goodies in stores these days?

Come to think of it, look closely and you will realize that the traditions of the modern day Christmas should not really make sense in a lot of things for us. For example, our Christmas tree is plastic. Why? Because evergreen conifers (more commonly known as Christmas trees) do not grow in tropical climates. They grow in places where there are cool winters. We also don’t have chimneys where Santa can get down on. And we are never going to get a white Christmas. Never.

Here are more bummers: Santa in the 18th century was not fat, was not jolly, and was not wearing a red suit. Further, he did not have elves and reindeers. Of all things, he was a thin bishop who wore a robe and went around using his feet. He was short (barely five feet in height) and had a broken nose. And his name was Saint Nicholas.

It was the Dutch who settled in New York that made Saint Nicholas popular in America. And they exchanged gifts on his birthday, which happens to be on December 6. Yes, not on December 25.

How did Santa become fat then? Not by eating all those milk and cookies of course! Somebody named Clement Clark Moore wrote a poem “Twas a Night Before Christmas and described Santa as a jolly, old elf, and Santa was drawn as such by Thomas Nast. And from there, he just got fatter and fatter and morphed into a human form.

From a thin human bishop to an elf to a fat jolly human. That’s the evolution of Santa.

But how did Jesus come into the picture? As the only Christian nation in Asia, Santa and Jesus become stars on the same day for us. We have the unique culture in Asia of celebrating the birthday of Jesus on the same day that Santa gives gifts to those who have been nice. Unlike in other countries, our Christmas highlights Simbang Gabi and Noche Buena, followed by the usual gift giving and opening of gifts with our families.

By the way, that is not the norm in other places. In China where most plastic Christmas trees are made, workers don’t even know what they are for. In Pakistan, December 25 is a holiday not because it is Christmas but in memory of Pakistan’s founder. Some Australians celebrate Christmas at the beach. The Christians in Egypt celebrate Christmas not on December 25 but on January 7. So do those in Ethiopia, Russia and Serbia.

But because we are predominantly Christians who are strongly influenced by the Americans, maybe we should teach our kids that firstly, Christmas is the birthday of Jesus. And yes, it’s the day when Santa gives gifts too, definitely not the other way around. Or maybe we should even go beyond that and celebrate the core concept. After all, Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas and Jesus are all about goodness and generosity, something that we could all identify with, regardless of religious affiliation and credit card limit.


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