(last year’s reprint)
A collection of Christmas and/or holiday myths. I’m going to justify this description by saying a ‘myth’ is a sort of old, sideways conspiracy… please play along! Many of these myths have been spread by well-meaning, but misinformed or mistaken people.
Santa dresses in red, because Coke wanted it that way.
No, Old Saint Nicholas was a Bishop, so he wore red. (Sort of, let’s simplify it by doing a search for “Saint Nicholas Holy Cards” or “Saint Nicholas Icon” to establish that he’s frequently shown in red, like Mary is shown in blue, and leave it there.) Specifically, he was the Bishop of a place called Myra in the first half of the 300s, on what is now the coast of Turkey. We have far more legends than hard facts about him, and he’s one of the most popular saints around, even if you remove “Santa Claus” of the familiar American stripe from consideration. The English Victorian artists put him in all sorts of colors like green velvet and tapestry patterns, but the red kept coming back. It is very dramatic, no?
Depending on the drawing, it can be very easy to see “Santa (saint) Klaus (Nicholas)” as wearing rather sensible winter gear. The ruffs of white fur are obviously useful to keep warm, the long coat that hangs to his knees and is belted and is likewise warm, red mittens (you can grip but get to keep your fingers).
If you want to know where various Santa traditions came from, including various names, then the Saint Nicholas Center is for you!
If you are interested in the “Santa Conspiracy” in terms of ‘Santa is real,’ please go to this excellent article from Catholic.com. She offers a much better clarification. My eldest is just old enough to be interested in Santa, and we’re going with the “he was real, here’s his story” option. It’s a lot more fun.
If you’d really like to encourage interest in the historic Santa to kids and adults alike, give away gold coins on December 6th and maybe show your kids what he may have looked like. That’s his feast day, and it is a great way to remember him secretly giving some poor girls a dowry so they could be honorably married. You might also share some of the many memes about “Santa punched a heretic” — probably rather effectively, since if you went to the article about the recreation of his face, you’ll know that at some point his nose was broken very badly, so he was probably familiar with a bit more rough and tumble than we’d expect.
(Note: According to some stories, he apologized for decking Arius– in one case apologizing to Christ Himself, with Mary beside him. The offense to someone he loved was just too much.)
Christmas is Saturnalia, or maybe Sol Invictus!
No, it isn’t.
Longer version: Saturnalia was a roughly three day Fool’s Feast festival with gifts starting about the 17th of December, so it would be over by the 19th. The date of Jesus’ birth makes perfect sense from a Jewish tradition standpoint. Great prophets enter the world on the same day they leave. Take the Feast of the Annunciation. Add nine months. Christmas!
Side note: a lot of stuff that makes no sense to modern English speaking people is perfectly reasonable in Latin, or to first-century Jews, or similar sources that are obvious after you know about it. Take any of a dozen similar middle-of-the-winter “fun” celebrations. Especially before modern times, the midwinter was depressing; there’s less sunlight, it’s not as warm, food may be more limited and with less variety–you want to have fun. It’s really not a wonder that the Romans, who seem to have had a Japanese-like habit of adopting practices that they liked, putting their own spin on it and charging forward, would throw a party on Christmas after the Christians started. (Ignoring the tactical reasons, such as seeing who didn’t show up, because they were at Mass.) There are some things that are just human, too, like wanting to think about green, growing things with bright berries when it’s cold and everything seems dead, so of course you’ll decorate with things like evergreens and holly with its bright-red berries. Which brings us to the next and final aspect.
Most any symbol you can choose for Christmas–from the Christmas Tree to the Holy Child–is supposedly “stolen” from Pagan origins.
There are three objections:
One: If you simplify things down enough, you can make anything fit into a category. See various “there are only ten plots in existence” articles or books for an example. Thus, the Holy Child could be claimed to be ‘just like’ Hercules, because they are both famous heroes with a King of Heaven father and a mortal mother.
Two: It is a standard tactic to ‘baptize’ traditions into the Faith, so that people don’t lose their grounding, but to stretch the metaphor, make the soil more wholesome. Think something like a smoker who always smokes after dinner switching over to chewing gum, or having a mint candy. You take something that is bad, or even questionable, and turn it around to good ends.
Three: Symbols are things that mean something. You may as well claim that the number ‘1’ had its symbol stolen by ‘l’ because they are written the same, even though their meanings are nothing alike. Say, Christmas gift-giving as a symbol of The Gift that God gave us, in His only begotten Son, so that all who believed in Him might not die, but have eternal life.
This article is part of a series on Catholicism and Conspiracy Theories. Do you have an example, suggestion or question you’d like me to look into? Please send me an email message or leave in the comments! I may not know an answer yet, but I’ll look for it! The previous articles were Councils and Lost Books of the Bible.
I hope that your Christmas is as much a blessing as it should be. God Bless!