I know Christmas is still a few months away, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see Christmas trees at Wal-Mart soon. Looking ahead to the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, I read Joseph McCullough's The Story of Santa Claus. McCullough traces the origins of the the Santa Claus legend from St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, through Kris Kringle and Sinterklaas, up to the Americanized Coca-Cola/Nast Santa we know and love today.
The best part of The Story of Santa Claus is the compilation of biography and legends (and of course, these mix and mingle) about the original St. Nicholas. Drawing on centuries-old writings, he makes the case for a real, saintly person who loved to give gifts. His saint's day, December 6, was frequently celebrated with gift giving, but eventually, after the Reformation, the gift giving in his memory was moved to Christmas Day.
It's interesting how several other traditions merged with the legend of St. Nicholas to give us the Santa Claus figure that we now recognize. Is it a bad thing that pagan legends have a part in the story of Santa Claus? I don't think so. But Christians who want to "keep the Christ in Christmas" would be well-served to remember the example set by St. Nicholas himself. He embodies the spirit of Christmas and the sacrificial, self-giving character of Christ. Happy reading, and a way-to-early merry Christmas to all!
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!