The True Father Christmas
Posted on December 14th, 2009
I believe in Santa Claus. That’s right. I, a twenty-nine year old guy, believe in Santa Claus. I believe in him because I have met him. Before anyone starts wondering about whether I ought to be put into a straitjacket, let me clarify. I did not meet a jolly fat guy in a big red suit with a sled of eight reindeer. I am not referring to Santa Claus in a literal sense. I am referring to the idea of Santa Claus, or what the English would call Father Christmas.
Santa Claus and Father Christmas are essentially the same in popular culture and concept, but they are different in origin. Santa Claus comes from the Dutch figure Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas. This figure was based upon the historical figure of Saint Nicholas of Myra, a real life bishop in the early Christian church. This bishop would do mysterious good deeds for the poor where he lived, in what would become present-day Turkey.
The Dutch took this mythic figure and brought celebrations of his deeds at Christmas time to the American colonies. When the British Empire conquered the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam and renamed it New York, many Dutch remained as citizens. Various traditions were eventually adopted by the incoming British subjects, most notably that of Sinterklaas, who was eventually renamed Santa Claus. He was still portrayed as a figure quite different and more pious than who we know today.
Eventually, through various newspaper cartoons by Thomas Nast, and the famous poem, “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Clarke Moore, the popular conception of Santa Claus began to change to the modern image that we see today. This change was cemented in the 1930’s, thanks to the Coca-Cola companies introduction of Santa Claus on the famous “Santa Coca-Cola can.”
Father Christmas has a slightly different origin. He is the personification of the Christmas Spirit. Early English paintings and works have him as a jovial man who spreads good cheer and helps those in dire straits. This can be seen most directly in the character of “The Ghost of Christmas Present” from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The character is very much based upon the idea of Father Christmas, who helps Ebenezer Scrooge and spreads good cheer to the people during his Christmas Eve jaunts with Scrooge.
Eventually, the character of Father Christmas was amalgamated with that of Santa Claus, and the present version that we see today is in use. It should be noted that Father Christmas is still much more regal than Santa Claus, likely owing in part to the Victorian roots of the figure versus the folklore roots of Saint Nicholas.
The most recent, and best in my opinion, version of the combined figure of Father Christmas/Santa Claus is from CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first book of his Chronicles of Narnia. In the book, a jolly figure gives the characters gifts that range from fun for the Narnians, to serious and essential for the Pevensie children. He is about heralding a season and time of blessing and joy, as Aslan has come and broken the White Witch’s spell. In a very real way, Father Christmas has always been seen as heralding the coming of the Christmas season where we celebrate the birth of the Messiah, Jesus, Who died for our sins, rose again, and restored us to peace with God.
This is the Santa, the Father Christmas, that I saw and felt a few years ago. This Spirit was seen in the joy on the faces of those around me in a small chapel in the dusty, cold, and muddy streets of a military base in Kuwait on Christmas Eve. We had been told that the flights home would not happen until the evening of Christmas Day, and we had to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in Kuwait on the base. There had been this air of excitement in the building as we all awaited the details of our impending flight home in the early morning hours of the 24th. Then the sad news was given to us, that we could not make it home in time for Christmas. The general feeling of dejection was palpable in the building. We all grumbled amongst ourselves, and at the travel staff. Our behavior was quite lousy, to say the least. Most of the day was spent in sadness, until the evening, when a surprising thing happened.
There were several services that evening, including a midnight service. As each service passed, it seemed that everyone’s mood improved drastically, until finally the midnight service came. There, in that small Air Force chapel in Kuwait, we shut off the lights, took lit candles, and passed them around. In hushed tones, we began to sing “The First Noel.”
I remember looking around as I sang, looking at everyone’s faces faintly illuminated by the candles that we all held. So many different denominations and countries of origin were represented. Yet here we were, on Christmas Eve, thousands of miles from home, and we were happy. Most people would wonder at that, the joy that we felt that night, but it was real.
That is when I believe I saw Father Christmas. I saw him not as a figure, but as a Spirit sent by God to bless us all. In that moment, we were not contemplating gifts, food, decorations, or any of the usual “holiday cheer.” We were focused on the miracle that occurred nearly two thousand years ago in a stable a couple of hundred miles away in Bethlehem. God became flesh, to save us from our sins. He did all of that for us, when we were His enemies. Not because He had to do so, but because He chose to do so.
That day we had spent sulking about not being home for Christmas, about “missing Christmas.” We had anything but Jesus or God’s gift of salvation on our hearts. We truly needed a wake-up call. The Lord had no reason to give us one, or to bring us comfort, as we showed nothing but ingratitude and lack of joy. Nevertheless, He chose to give us comfort. He chose to bring us the joy of Christmas, and show us the true meaning. I had not seen before, and wonder if I ever will see since, the joy, happiness, the Christmas Spirit that I saw that night.
I believe in Santa Claus. I believe in Father Christmas. He is the Lord, Who brings happiness and joy to us all, at that season. I met him in that small chapel in Kuwait. On that Christmas that was the best that I ever had. He holds out His hand to all of us, waiting to help us if we simply accept it. This Christmas, remember that Father Christmas, God come down in flesh, died for us, and rose again for our sins. Remember and accept.
In the words of Tiny Tim Cratchett from A Christmas Carol, “God bless us, everyone.”
Written by: Timothy Stone. For more articles and thoughts from Timothy check out his site: TimothyAStone.com