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Revising the story of Santa

December 20, 2011
Tribune Chronicle |

At the risk of being known as the Christmas Curmudgeon, I believe that we should revise this entire Santa Claus routine.

The name of Santa Claus derives from Saint Nicholas, who lived along the southern coast of Turkey, in what was a part of the ancient Greek Empire. Born into wealth, Nicholas obeyed Jesus' instructions to ''sell what you own and give the money to the poor,'' then he followed in the ways of Christ. His peers recognized his devotion and he was named the Bishop of Myra while still a young man. This was a dangerous vocation during the Roman Empire's persecution of Christians, and Bishop Nicholas suffered exile and brutal imprisonment.

Bishop Nicholas earned a reputation for his extraordinary character and for his generosity protecting and helping those in need. He was known for his love of children and for his dedication to the sailors who braved the trade routes of the Mediterranean Sea. He died on Dec. 6, AD 343, and the anniversary of his death is celebrated as Saint Nicholas Day. More than 16 centuries later, the historical Saint Nicholas is held in very high esteem, notably within the Byzantine / Orthodox Christian tradition.

How could the life of this holy man inspire the Santa Claus icon of the current Christmas frenzy?

Over the centuries, the stories and legends of Saint Nicholas were retold and embellished, until they bore almost no resemblance to the man. The 1823 poem ''A Visit from St. Nicholas,'' also known as ''The Night Before Christmas'' even described him as a ''jolly old elf.'' (I do not recall reading about elves in the Bible).

Cartoonists further changed the image and message of Saint Nicholas, until Big Business saw the potential of using him to sell Coca-Cola and Christmas gifts.

By the late 20th Century, the cult of this commercialized Santa was at full power. The yuletide greed fest of demanding, bratty children and obnoxious parents was documented by comedian David Sedaris in his 1992 ''SantaLand Diaries,'' describing his employment as Crumpet the Christmas Elf at a Macy's department store. This festive season has grown even worse a generation later.

A store employee was trampled to death by stampeding shoppers who could not wait to get inside and grab so-called Christmas sale bargains. A Black Friday shopper deliberately pepper sprayed the other shoppers in an attempt to cut in front of the line waiting for a store to open. What did these adults learn when they were children that led them to believe that any Christmas gift was worth this?

Thoughts and behavioral habits implanted during childhood become the foundation for the frame of mind that continues throughout adulthood. Today's Santa Claus mythology carries a message of getting something (or a lot of things) for nothing, setting up an expectation of entitlement to handouts.

This entitlement mentality may explain the multiple-generation ''welfare class'' living in a state of perpetual dependent childhood. Wall Street executives believe they are entitled to take taxpayer bailouts, then to pay themselves billions in bonuses and stock equity manipulations, after mismanaging our nation's financial institutions to the brink of self-destruction. Politicians act is if they are entitled to accept campaign contributions and do the bidding of lobbyists while inflating the national debt. We have a population that appears to believe they are entitled to enjoy the benefits of modern civilization, with public education, paved roads, clean water, sanitation and protection by police, fire departments, and military, without paying taxes to fund these services.

Perhaps we should go back to the message of the original Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, and emulate his generosity, protecting and helping those in need. There are so many opportunities to continue the mission of Saint Nicholas in our community, with the Warren Family Mission, Rescue Mission of the Valley, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Red Cross, United Way, just to name a few.

Pirko is a Weathersfield resident. Email him at



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