The Christmas season is in full swing. Shoppers are tearing up the pavement, houses are decorated in celebration of the season, and the big guy is soon to arrive. No one loves Christmas more than this big guy. My continuing love affair with holiday lights has turned my backyard into a runway, and the electric company names me customer of the month every December.
Which brings me back to the question of the big guy–Santa Claus… Kris Kringle…Old Saint Nick… We see him on advertising posters, in parades, at departments stores…who is this guy and why does he have so many aliases? Well, the original St. Nicholas lived in southwestern Turkey in the 4th century. As a saint he was given his own “feast day” celebrated on December 6th.
At about the same time Nicholas lived, Pope Julius I decided to establish a date for the celebration of the birth of Jesus. As the actual time of year for this event was unknown, the Pope decided to assign the holiday to December 25th. There had long been a pagan midwinter festival at this time of year and the Pope hoped to use the holiday to Christianize the celebrations.
Eventually, Saint Nicholas’s feast day also became associated with December 25th and his connection with Christmas was established. A tradition developed that he would supposedly visit homes on Christmas Eve and children would place nuts, apples, sweets and other items around the house to welcome him. As the reformation took a hold of much of Europe, however, the popularity of St. Nicholas dropped in most Protestant countries, with the exception of Holland where he was referred to as “Sinter Klaas.” After this tradition came to the United States, “Sinter Klass” would eventually be corrupted to “Santa Claus.”
Nothing has fixed the image of Santa Claus so firmly in the American mind as a poem entitled A Visit from St. Nicholas written by Clement Moore in 1822. Moore, a professor of biblical languages at New York’s Episcopal Theological Seminary, incorporated some elements from German and Norse legends. These stories held that a happy little elf-like man presided over midwinter pagan festivals. In the poem, Moore depicts the Saint as a tiny man with a sleigh drawn by eight miniature reindeer. They fly him from house to house and at each residence he comes down the chimney to fill stockings hung by the fireplace with gifts.
Moore had written the poem for the enjoyment of his own family, but in 1823 it was published anonymously in the Troy Sentinel. It became very popular and has been reprinted countless times under the more familiar title, The Night Before Christmas.
Where did Moore get the reindeer? The Saami people of northern Scandinavia and Finland often used reindeer to pull their sledges around and this found its way into the poem. Reindeer, which are much sturdier animals than North American deer, are well adapted to cold climates with their heavy fur coats and broad, flat hooves for walking on snow.
Which brings us to Rudolph.
Almost as popular as Santa himself is his lead reindeer with a glowing red nose, Rudolph. Unlike Santa’s history, the story of Rudolph can be traced back to a specific author: Robert L. May. May was a copywriter for Montgomery Ward department stores in 1939. The company had been buying and giving away coloring books at Christmas time for many years. May’s boss thought they could save some money by printing their own books and asked May to come up with a story. May thought up the idea of a misfit reindeer who saves the day for Santa on a foggy Christmas Eve.
The story took off, but unfortunately May did not own the rights. His employer, Montgomery Ward, did. Because May’s wife was terminally ill at the time, Montgomery Ward passed the rights on to May, virtually assuring his financial security. May’s brother-in-law wrote a song about the reindeer, and in 1964, Rudolph got his own Christmas special. He’s been a part of our Christmas celebrations ever since … and as the song says, he went down in history.
J.L. Mann (Bubba) Cromer is an Attorney in Columbia, whose practice focuses on DUI Defense, Criminal Defense & Probate Administration and Estate Planning. Admitted to practice in South Carolina, California & The District of Columbia, “Bubba” has been in practice for 26 years. In addition to his Solo Practice at Cromer Law Offices, LLC, Bubba Served as the only true Independent In the S.C. Legislature from 1990-1998. For the past 16 years, he has Served as the Reading Clerk of the House.Bubba resides in Columbia, S.C and Rosman, N.C. where he built a cabin 4 years ago. Bubba lives with his Hungarian Golden Retriever Casper.