Lines of little children all over the country, in department stores and shopping malls, find the stocky, white-bearded Kris Kringle, dressed in red and white, shouting “Ho, ho, ho!” as excited children are placed on his lap for Santa to listen to their holiday wishes.
But now, Santa would like a listening ear or two. Pete Vanderpool, the official Santa Claus for Bradley Square Mall, brought a bagful of facts and candid conversation about the history of the real Santa Claus, Christmas and Christianity.
Vanderpool, the only Santa at Bradley Square Mall since 2003, said, “Santa really goes back to around the year 300 A.D. in Turkey when there was a young boy who became a bishop and his name was Nicholas. He loved children. Because of his work with children and helping people, eventually the Catholic Church made him a saint. Over the years that has changed. The Dutch called him Sinter Klaas and when they came to this country, we Americans made it Santa Claus.”
Regarding this fact, www.stnicholascenter.org adds, “Colonial Germans in Pennsylvania kept the feast of St. Nicholas and several later accounts have St. Nicholas visiting New York’s Dutch on New Year’s Eve.”
Vanderpool said what makes a Santa Claus in any part of the world is “love and a heart for children.”
“I believe Santa Claus has always been a symbol and the symbol depends on the individual. I tell children this: Think of Santa Claus as the symbol of the season, the loving and the caring and the sharing. That’s what they should think about when they think of Santa.”
But some Christians reject this concept, according to Vanderpool, who says to some people Santa is a symbol of Satan.
“If you anagram the word you can come up with S.a.t.a.n. instead of S.a.n.t.a. So some people say it’s all commercial and it’s all Satan. There are some people who won’t let me into their school because they have that thought in their minds,” he says.
“Santa to them is a symbol of something bad, but that’s some individuals. I think for most of us Santa Claus is a symbol of peace and he has been for a long time. I think the thought is that he is not Christian, that he is taking the emphasis away from the nativity, the birth of Christ. That shouldn’t happen. Santa Claus comes from Saint Nicholas. He was a bishop in the Catholic Church.”
Saint Nicholas historian Charles W. Jones said, “Santa Claus is not a characteristically Dutch corruption. The place it has survived from early times is in Switzerland and southern Germany.”
Describing how Saint Nicholas and early legends of Norse gods became the magical symbol of Santa Claus, Edna Barth, in her book, “Holly, Reindeer, and Colored Lights, The Story of Christmas Symbols” wrote, “Swedish children wait eager for Jultometen, a gnome whose sleigh is drawn by Julbocker, the goats of the thunder god Thor. With his red suit and cap, and a bulging sack on his back, he looks much like the American Santa Claus.”
In the chapter, “Santa Claus and his Ancestors,” Barth says, “Thousands of years before Christ, the Scandinavian god Odin rode through the world at midwinter on this eight-footed horse, sleipnir, bringing reward and punishment.
“His son, Thor, god of farming, thunder and war made his home in the far north. At the same season, the gentle German goddess Hertha descended with her gifts of good fortune and health. The Christian religion brought an end of such pagan gods, in form at least. Later, as St. Nicholas and Father Christmas, they reappeared in spirit.”
In the book “Scandinavian Mythology,” author H.R. Elllis Davidson wrote, “It was Thor who in the last days of heathenism was regarded as the chief antagonist of Christ.”
Although the mythical character of Santa continues to compete with Christ for holiday dominance, Vanderpool said he believes if the real Saint Nicholas were alive today “he would be pointing us all back to the Nativity because in his mind that is what it was all about.”
“In the year 300 (A.D.) they were still tied very closely to Jesus and his life. I think he would be pointing us back to that tradition,” he said.
Regarding the origin and modern traditions of Christmas, The Encyclopedia Americana states, “The celebration was not observed in the first centuries of the Christian church since the Christian usage in general was to celebrate the death of remarkable persons rather than their birth.
“Most of the customs now associated with Christmas were not originally Christmas customs but rather were pre-Christian and non-Christian customs taken up by the Christian church. Saturnalia, a Roman feast celebrated in mid-December, provided the model for many of the merry-making customs of Christmas. From this celebration, for example, were derived the elaborate feasting, the giving of gifts and the burning of candles.”
The New Catholic Encyclopedia admits, “The date of Christ’s birth is not known. The Gospels indicate neither the day nor the month. On Dec. 25, 274, Aurelian had proclaimed the sun-god principal patron of the empire and dedicated a temple to him in the Campus Martius. Christmas originated at a time when the cult of the sun was particularly strong in Rome.”
While the origin of Christmas and the arrival of Santa Claus seems forever fused into a modern mixture of commercialism, paganism and Nativity scenes, Vanderpool said he is keeping his focus showing love to others and having a heart of love all year round.
When asked what does Santa want for Christmas, the jolly old soul quipped, “A day off!” He said he is aware that children are smarter than ever in view of modern technology, which keeps him on his toes.
“Truth has moved from the third grade back to the first grade,” he explained. “Whereas third-graders didn’t believe in Santa — but they weren’t taking any chances — that same scenario has moved to first-graders. They don’t believe in Santa Claus — but they’re not taking any chances.”
In the meantime, he will be listening to little ones whisper their holiday wishes into his ears and taking photos with them at Bradley Square Mall, Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 6 p.m., through Dec. 24.
For further information, visit www.shopbradleysquare.com. or call 423-472-5080.