The latest issue of Sofia – our monthly ‘zine – came out today. Copies should be arriving in the mail soon, and they are available in the narthex. The website will have the December issue up at the beginning of the month. Here is an excerpt from my article (the Santa picture I reference can be found here):
American Christmas largely developed through the popular reception of the writings of Washington Irving and Charles Dickens. Traditions like Christmas trees, Santa Claus, and yule logs are largely German or Germanic in origin, and were popularized by those writers. Even before their time, the many German- and Dutch-speaking enclaves in the Colonies and early America celebrated with these traditions. Santa Claus is a combination of St. Nicholas and Father Christmas, a religious figure with pagan origins going back to the Anglo-Saxon god Woden, the equivalent to the Norse god Odin and the source of the word Wednesday (Woden’s Day). Santa Claus today appears rather cartoonish, with his red suit and boots and hat, but if you look at depictions of him going back a few centuries you can see the evolution from his religious roots. The attached illustration of Father Christmas from the late 17th century could almost have been copied from an Orthodox icon of St. Nicholas. The name Santa Claus itself comes from the saint, and he was known for his generosity and gift-giving. Forget the elves and North Pole stuff; Santa Claus is a modern depiction of our saint and offers us a teaching tool as we return to the religious roots of Christmas.