How the Claus Stole Christmas
The Signpost correspondent
Some students, professors believe in Christian Christmas, abhor Santa
Ogden, UT, Nov 2005 — On a silent night, away in a manager, in a little town called Bethlehem, Santa Claus came to town?
Santa Claus has become the larger-than-life icon for the Christmas holiday. While many families all over America have accepted this mythical figure for the last 150 years, some see Santa as a threat to the integrity of Christmas.
Kay Gillespie, Weber State University criminal justice professor, has been an anti-Claus activist for 37 years. Gillespie delivers an annual lecture on campus discussing how emphasizing Santa Claus has corrupted Christmas. This year's Anti-Claus Lecture will be held in the Shepherd Union Building Wildcat Theater Friday at 10 a.m.
"Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ," Gillespie said. "Santa Claus is a big commercial tool for businesses and that's why you see Christmas stuff in stores before Halloween now."
There are others who share in Gillespie's belief that Santa has overshadowed Jesus as the central figure of Christmas.
"Everywhere you go, you see pictures of Santa Claus," said Dennis Young, WSU senior. "You don't see as many manger scenes as you used to."
Some view Santa as a positive icon because he changes the focus of Christmas, which enables other groups and cultures besides Christians to join in Christmas celebrations. Gillespie disagrees with this notion.
"People in their cultures should be able to celebrate their holiday without altering it," Gillespie said. "A Christian holiday should be celebrated as a Christian holiday, or a Jewish holiday and so on. People who don't believe in Christ shouldn't celebrate Christmas; they should have their own holiday. I don't celebrate Hanukkah or other religious holidays simply because I don't subscribe to that belief system."
Santa Claus wasn't concocted to steal Christmas from Jesus. The jolly old man's party-crashing evolution began like Frankenstein's monster, pieced together from various sources.
Santa's name comes from Sinterklaas, the Dutch name for Saint Nicholas of Myra, a fourth century bishop in Turkey known for secretly distributing gifts. When the Dutch settled in North America in the 17th century, they brought the Sinterklaas tradition with them.
The contemporary trappings of Santa originated in the 1836 poem, "T'was the Night Before Christmas" by Clement Moore. Moore invented Santa's fat appearance, the reindeer and their names, the flying sleigh and Santa's habit of delivering toys down chimneys.
In 1862, cartoonist Thomas Nast drew the first pictures of a green-suited Santa for Harper's Weekly. In 1920, Santa got his red suit. The rest of Santa's persona has come from popular songs and commercial ads.
When Coca-Cola began printing pictures of Santa drinking Coke in the 1930s, his commercialization was complete. Today, consumers can see Santa peddling products ranging from children's toys to sexy lingerie.
Many parents view Santa as harmless fun, a right of passage that everyone goes through. However, Gillespie sees more harm than good coming from perpetuating the myth.
"The fact that people remember the time when they found out there wasn't a Santa suggests that it was a traumatic event," said Gillespie. "People remember where they were when 9/11 occurred, and they remember when they found out about Santa."
WSU junior Kristin Waite said she remembers how she found out.
"I was 9 years old. I went shopping with my mom because I needed socks. When I woke up on Christmas morning the socks were sitting with the stuff I got from Santa Claus. That's when I figured it out," she said.
Gillespie is concerned that the Santa myth damages the trust between parent and child.
"Parents lie to their children, then later tell them that what they said about Santa really isn't true," Gillespie said. "I find children start to question everything they're taught by parents, thinking, 'They told me Santa was real, now he's not. What about what they told me about Jesus and God?'"
Brent Kimball, WSU adjunct professor, relates to Gillespie's concerns.
"One year, my daughter said to me that she knew Santa is real just like she knew Jesus is real," Kimball said. "It really caught me off guard."
Pushing belief in Santa on kids also contradicts safety lessons taught by parents, such as telling children not to talk to strangers, and then letting them sit on Santa's lap; or teaching children it is OK to take candy and gifts from strange men in Santa suits.
Santa also places additional financial strain on parents during the holiday season. According to Bankrate.com, it takes the average person six months to pay off his or her Christmas debt.
"My kids were telling me what they wanted for Christmas," Young said. "When I told them we couldn't afford that much this year, they told me that they would just have Santa bring it to them."
Gillespie said he sees further social implications from this little white Christmas lie.
"It affects children later on," Gillespie said. "When they have questions about sex and drugs, they go to their friends instead of their parents because their friends told them the truth about Santa and their parents lied."