Science is the bane of the traditional Christmas. Let’s face it, there is absolutely zero archeological evidence that the persona around which this holiday orbits ever even existed. I mean we’ve surfaced a submarine at 90 degrees north, and to everyone’s surprise (or not) there was no workshop full of elves.
I think that it’s time we faced facts; Santa Claus might just be a figment of our imagination.
No one doubts the existence of Saint Nicholas. In seventeen centuries, however, the facts get a little distorted. There is virtually no resemblance between the guy who resurrected some pickled kids and the jolly tubby dude in the red suit. About the only connection I can make is their names sound oddly alike. But the evolution of the name overtime is akin to passing a message through a grapevine. The result, at the end, for both the name and the history, hardly resemble what they started as.
So where does that leave us? Are we celebrating a holiday that we just made up? Short answer: Yes.
Longer answer: Yeppers.
Really Long Answer: People like holidays. Way back when, before there were monotheistic religions, the only days off of work were holy days. Exhausted people found just about any good excuse for a holy day and ran with it. Birth of a king: Holy Day. Shortest day of the year: Holy Day. Full Moon: Holy day. Can’t quite figure out how to divide 365 evenly? Divide it by 12 and those extra five are all Holy Days. Then some slaves got together and decided they were part of a religion that kept one in seven days holy. But we’re going to back up to that shortest day of the year one. The 25th day of the 12th month was the shortest day of the year. Wait, you say, the shortest day, or winter solstice, is the 21st or 22nd? It is now. When there were 12 months of 30 days, it was the 25th. When they fixed the calendars to have variable length months, some of the holy days kept their numbers, especially the ones that had been co-opted to mean something other than their astronomical significance.
Wait, was I supposed to answer why Christmas was December 25th? Oops. Suddenly we’re not celebrating a made up holy day but a day of astronomical significance that has migrated. So what part did we make up to end up with such affirmative shorter answers? We made up the parts about why we give the gifts.
Gift giving was part of the pagan holiday Saturnalia, possibly for the reason I stated in yesterdays post. Saturnalia has absolutely very little to do with the modern gift giving tradition. The church banned the practice of gift giving until the legends of St. Nicholas evolved into his being a gift-giver. That and people still had stuff sitting around that they had to give away or let rot. Eventually the church relented and gift giving became part of the tradition, but far from on the scale we see it today until the advent of television made generating artificial need for crap we don’t need cheap and plastic injection molding made mass production of crap even cheaper.
It eventually comes down to this: We had an excuse to have a holiday. We had a need to give stuff. We’ll just call that need the Spirit of Giving. We’ll name that spirit of giving ‘Santa Claus.’ We may have made some of it up to rationalize it, but in the end it is something real. So maybe Santa Claus does really exist.