By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
Santa certainly gets around this time of year and his celebrity status reaches its zenith Christmas Eve.
He is indeed the “Man of the Hour,” especially in the hearts of believing children. You know the American traditions, of course; worldwide, though, Santa has different schedules and even different personalities.
In Italy, for example, he is known as “Babbo Natale,” roughly translated as “Daddy Christmas.” There, he’s too high-class to deliver gifts. That is done by a bewitched woman who wanted to visit the baby Jesus, and would have hitched a ride with the Magi if domestic duties had not held her up.
She got her directions crossed on the way, and could not find the locale relying only on good intentions; consequently, she runs a little late and delivers gifts Jan. 5, the eve of Epiphany, still looking for Bethlehem.
In Japan, Christians are a rather small component of the population, less than two percent. Christmas, though, is increasing in popularity as a secular annual tradition.
Santa is called Santakukoru. He leaves gifts under children’s pillows, and they wake up un-upset that somebody had been in the room fooling about in the middle of the night. According to one source, it is common for the family to then go to Kentucky Fried Chicken for Christmas dinner.
In Austria, Santa works in an uneasy partnership with “Krampus,” a devilish sort of creature who really doesn’t seem to like kids very much. For Santa, giving gifts to the Austrian kids is more a “payment” for good behavior rather than a reward.
Krampus prefers the misbehaved children. Those, he stuffs into the grimy bag he carries, and then he carries them to some horrible place where they are never seen or heard from again. The old demon likes this line of work. The word is, Santa’s not too keen on this kidnapping mess, but union regulations prevent him from being able to do anything about it.
There are other stories around the “Santa Claus” tradition. The interesting thing about all of them is, every one of them got their beginning from the life of a real person: Saint Nicholas, born in the city of Patara in the fourth century in what is now Turkey. While the facts about his life are vague, it is known he suffered persecution, imprisonment, torture and martyrdom because he was a professing Christian.
He would not have been a Christian, of course, if it was not for the event celebrated at Christmas.
If Jesus had never been born, I guess we could still find something to celebrate. We could still have many of the decorations, the “holiday” trees, and lights commemorating celestial events forecasting the future.
After all, these sorts of things we do that add to the holiday atmosphere had pagan origins. Likewise, we could still have scented candles, gift exchanges and festive dinners, if the baby Jesus had never been placed in the manger.
BUT: If Jesus had not been born; if He had not lived and ministered; if He had not been crucified and if He did not rise from the dead—we would not have Santa Claus and all the fantastical traditions surrounding him.
As it is, I suspect if Saint Nicolas is somehow aware of the fuss we make about him—well, I think he would want us to redirect our attention to God’s perfect gift. The gift of His only begotten Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
God bless you this Christmas and in the New Year.