santacolor.jpg (5125 bytes)

Where Did Santa Claus Come From?

by Kim Harrington 


     And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Matthew 2:11(NKJ)

     The first people who brought gifts in honor of Christ’s birth were the wise men from the East who visited the Savior and His parents in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. They worshipped the new-born King, gave their hearts and lives to Him, and presented Him with the most valuable offerings their homeland could provide, gifts worthy of His exalted station. But a lot of history has intervened since that day in the Judean village, and things have changed considerably. Today gifts are given to each other rather than to Jesus, and in most of the celebrations in our country the central figure is not Christ at all, but a fat, jolly little fellow known as Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus.

     Where did St. Nick come from, and how did he get associated with the day of our Savior’s birth? He doesn’t enter the biblical story at all—in fact, he seems almost in opposition to it. He’s become a sort of deity to millions of children who seek to be good and please him instead of Jesus, the Son of God.

     Actually he is a god, a Greek myth from centuries before Christ. You see, according to the old tales the Greek god Cronus had three sons: Zeus, Hades, and Poseidon. Each was given a domain to rule over. Zeus was given the world, Hades the underworld, and Poseidon the sea. Poseidon—or Neptune, as the Romans called him—became the patron god of sailors, among others. If they were good and pleased him, he would give them safe travel, and also bless them with his bountiful gifts. Temples were built to honor him, especially in prominent seaports.

     One of them was in a city called Myra. Hundreds of years later, when Christianity was established as the state religion of the Roman Empire, a beautiful church was built on the ruins of the old temple of Poseidon. Soon afterwards, the bishop who presided there was rumored to have inherited the powers of the ancient god of the sea. He was said to be able to manipulate nature and do all sorts of miracles because the spirit of Poseidon was with him. He was also a benevolent man who would go out secretly at night on his white horse and leave gifts in people’s homes. His name was Nicholas, and he dressed, of course, in the traditional red bishop’s outfit, trimmed in white ermine, the pointed bishop’s hat atop his head.

     Over the years the legend spread, and in time the Roman Catholic church canonized him as St. Nicholas. The legend made its way throughout most of the European nations—“Santa Claus” is a variation of his Dutch name, Sintaklaas—and a few new twists were added over the years. Somewhere along the way his white horse was traded in for a team of reindeer, and in Twentieth Century America his hat was made a little more fashionable, but there is little doubt that Santa Claus is Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.

     An interesting footnote is that the Catholic church found itself unable to prove the existence of St. Nicholas, and so in 1969 he was dropped from the official calendar—he had been honored on December 6th, the day formerly dedicated to Poseidon by the ancient Greeks and Romans. His association with Christmas is probably due to the proximity of the two holidays... over the years they became celebrated as one. Santa Claus also provides a very convenient way for the more secular-minded people in our culture to direct the attention of the holiday season away from Jesus Christ and onto something less controversial.

The Winter Solstice

     Just when was Jesus born? Nobody knows. The Bible doesn’t tell us the day or month, and it’s impossible to really determine it by any other means. Experts now believe that He was actually born four to six years B.C. It seems the church of the Middle Ages, when computing the year of His birth, failed to take some variables into consideration and ended up miscalculating a bit!

     How then did we come up with December 25th? Well, it was the climax of the five-day celebration of the Winter Solstice, the greatest holiday on the Roman calendar. The solstice is the shortest day of the year, and there have always been various pagan festivals associated with it... the sun god is defeated, but starts making his come-back at this time, etc. The Roman holiday was known as Saturnalia, and since it was already a holiday, and since all the slaves and servants had the day off, as the empire became slowly Christianized so did Saturnalia—until it was declared Christ’s Mass, or the day of the year dedicated to Christ above all others. In many traditions this day was also connected with a madonna and child myth, as well—Egyptian, Babylonian, and ancient Roman legends all have references to a “queen of heaven” giving birth to a son at the time of the winter solstice, so the shift to a more Christian theme was a natural development.

     Saturnalia was originally Saturn’s day. Saturn was the Roman name for Cronus—yes, Cronus the father of Poseidon, Zeus, and Hades. In Rome it was celebrated by a huge city-wide party. Slaves were freed for a few days and there was dancing and drinking in the streets. Cronus was held to be a good natured god, so it seemed appropriate to engage in unbridled revelry.

     Cronus had a wife named Rhea, by the way, and the roots of these parents of the gods can be traced, not just from Rome to Greece, but actually back to Babylonian legends. (It is astonishing, but the mythology of nearly every major culture in the world—from the Celts to the Hindus, the Romans to the Egyptians—all seem to spring forth from the same place, ancient Babylon.) Cronus and Rhea were known to the ancient Babylonians as Nimrod and Semiramis. Nimrod is mentioned in the Bible as the great-grandson of Noah, and the builder of the first city, Babel or Babylon... “Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord...And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel...” (Gen.10:8-10).

Nimrod & Semiramis

     Nimrod and Semiramis, according to the Bible and other ancient records, built several cities and an entire civilization based in the land of Shinar or Chaldea, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers flowed. They also started their own religion, the first known departure from the worship of the true God (that’s what the tower of Babel was all about, by the way—a rebellious move away from the God who had judged the earth with a flood). In time the husband and wife team were themselves regarded as gods, and ultimately, the father and mother of all the gods. Their religion and the dark arts practiced in connection with it became called the Babylonian Mysteries—or, in the language of the Apocalypse, “Mystery Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth,” (Rev.17:5). Semiramis became Ishtar (or in Canaan’s land Astarte, or Ashtoreth); and Nimrod was known simply as Bel, “the Lord” — or translated into the language of the Canaanites, Baal.

     And so, dear friend, today we find ourselves honoring the birth of Christ on Saturnalia, the high holy day of Saturn, or Cronus, or Nimrod, or Baal, whichever you prefer. It almost makes you think there’s a conspiracy afoot—especially when you see what has happened to other holidays—like the resurrection of Jesus being known as Easter, the Gaelic form of Astarte or Ashtoreth, and Mary being called the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of God, titles once reserved for the consort of Baal. I believe it is a conspiracy. Not a Romish or a New Age plot, as some would suggest, but one hatched by the same clever individual that has been resisting the kingdom of the Living God since the Garden of Eden, Satan himself.

There’s Still More...

     Let’s go on and upset a few more cherished traditions, too. The Christmas tree, for example, did not originate with Martin Luther, as many Protestants have been taught. The practice was around in Medieval times, when folks used to hang red apples on them in honor of Adam and Eve Day, December 24th. But it goes back even further than that, I’m afraid. Evergreens were also a big part of the Saturnalia celebration—they were paraded down the streets decorated with lit candles. The Egyptians used a date palm in their celebrations of the winter solstice, which commemorated Isis, the “queen of heaven” giving birth to Osiris. Early Scandinavians worshipped the oak tree as their god Woden, but were persuaded by Catholic missionaries to transfer their homage to the evergreen.

     If this is the first you’ve heard about these things, your mind is probably reeling by now. Christmas Day is really Baal-day, Santa Claus is none other than Poseidon, and even the Christmas tree has dark origins. Mistletoe, incidentally, was a sacred plant to the Druids, who ruled pre-Christian Britain, and worshipped Bel and Eastre, among others. With the exception of the manger in Bethlehem and the biblical account, all of our traditions date back to the days before our ancestors embraced Christianity and the truth of the Gospel.

     The early Puritan fathers of our country refused to observe Christmas at all. They reasoned that they had a chance to start all over in a new world, and to establish a truly Christian country for the first time ever, and they didn’t want to start introducing the old pagan practices and personages into it at all. But their dreams of a commonwealth of God were lost as more and more people from all sorts of backgrounds moved into the American colonies.

What’s A Saint To Do?

     Today, for the born-again Christian, it’s not as clear a call as the Puritans were able to make. Christmas is well established, and the traditions—both Christian and pagan—are dear to the hearts of our families and friends. To refuse to be involved at all in the festivities would be to risk permanently offending the very people we’re trying to reach.

     And there are good things about the season, too. I think Christmas cards, for example, are wonderful. They allow you to reaffirm your love and friendship for those who you may not have seen for a long time due to the busy-ness of life. Presents aren’t such a bad idea either—our tradition of exchanging gifts makes us stop to consider and appreciate our loved ones. (I do think, however, that we should get back to the precedent set by the wise men as well, and give our best gifts to Jesus during the Christmas season.)

     So perhaps the Christian can rejoice during the holiday season, knowing that he or she is not honoring some false god, but rather giving thanks to the true God and His only begotten Son who died for us. And we can take the opportunity to engage those around us in deeper, more meaningful conversations about life and Jesus Christ during this season when their hearts are already turned towards things like peace and goodwill. But it might be best to stay clear of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, mistletoe, and the other purely pagan practices. These actually should have been discontinued long ago by those who claim to be believers in Christ. Let’s glorify the Lord instead of the competition.

     If you have not yet taken the time to seriously reflect about God and Jesus and eternal life, there’s no time like the present to sit down and do so. You may never be as close to making the right decision, or as sensitive to the things of the Spirit, as you are right now after reading this article. Anything might happen before you get around to thinking about your spiritual life again. You may not even be here next Christmas. So why not give your heart and life to Jesus Christ today? Confess your sins, and ask Him into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior. Give Him the best gift you possibly can—the gift of yourself. Then get into the Bible, and join a church that really preaches what it says. You’ll never regret it.

     Have a blessed Christmas in the Lord Jesus Christ.


Copyright © 1998 Kim Harrington, Masterbuilder Ministries. All rights reserved.


indyhome.jpg (4379 bytes)