Have you ever wondered how the focus of Christmas shifted from Christ our Saviour wrapped in swaddling cloths in a Bethlehem manger to jolly ol’ Saint Nick dressed in a bright red suit with white fur in a North Pole workshop?
It started out quite innocently. The man who came to be known as Saint Nicholas was born around AD 280 in what is now Turkey. As a follower of Christ, this dear man gave away his inherited wealth to help the poor. Centuries later, the day of his death, December 6, became a feast day that included the giving of gifts to children and the poor.
By the time of the Renaissance, Saint Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. In the Netherlands, Sinterklaas, as he was called, brought presents to good children. In Germany and elsewhere, Saint Nicholas was believed to be accompanied in his gift giving by the Christ Child or “Christkindl,” from where we get the name “Kriss Kringle.”
Eventually immigrants brought their various traditions to America, where writers and illustrators added new details to the character of Saint Nicholas until our modern Santa Claus gradually emerged in the late 1800s. Then it happened: the marketing of Christmas without the Christ.
“The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The shift came subtly, as often happens when we don’t evaluate everything against the plumb line of God’s Word. We veer slightly off center, and we soon lose track of the center altogether.