- (Photo: Carla Bronner Spletzer)
In American society, the celebration of Christmas includes more than displays, carols, and services dedicated to remembering the birth of Jesus Christ.
For millions of homes, stories like those of Santa Claus are prevalent. While some question the focus on the jolly bearded red-suited figure during the Christmas season, many businessmen involved in Christmas-themed enterprises feel there is no conflict between the Santa Claus story and the Nativity story.
Carla Bronner Spletzer is vice president of Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland, a Frankenmuth, Mich.-based business that boasts of being "The World Largest Christmas Store."
Spletzer told The Christian Post she remembered growing up with Santa Claus as part of the celebration of the birth of Jesus and that there was no conflict seen between the two stories.
"Santa is based on Christian religious beliefs. Santa was inspired by St. Nicholas who was a priest (in southern area of Turkey) that helped the poor and needy. St. Nicholas' giving was based on his love for Jesus," said Spletzer.
"Santa brings presents to good girls & boys on Christmas. Christmas is Jesus' birthday and that is why we get/give presents … as a reminder of Jesus' birthday & God's gift to us of His son Jesus, our Savior."
Spletzer also told CP that when her children were young, one way they would celebrate Christmas was to "decorate a giant cookie for Jesus' birthday on Christmas."
Despite selling the usual seasonal items including lights, Santa suits, and "snowbunnies," throughout its website Bronner's has the first six letters in Christmas spelled with capital letters as a reminder of the main reason for the season.
"Enjoy CHRISTmas, It's HIS birthday. Enjoy LIFE, It's HIS Way," reads the company's motto placed at the front of their store.
Peggy Chappell, owner of the Dallas-based Noel Christmas Store, told The Christian Post about how as with many American homes Santa Claus and the Nativity Story were both part of her childhood.
"As a child I remember being told that Santa Claus would come at Christmas with gifts, but we had to be good children. We had to go to grandma's house so that Santa could arrive with the gifts," said Chappell. "But I also remember going to church and being told about the birth of Christ and that was why we were celebrating Christmas."
Despite believing that "the story of Santa lives on" for American children, Chappell said that she felt materialism had infused itself with the Santa Claus story.
"I still believe that it is a wonderful magic for children to believe in, but I feel that it has become too commercialized," said Chappell. "The true meaning and spirit of Christmas has been diminished. It has come to the point of some retailers remaining open on Christmas day so they can make those 'extra sales.'"
The popular imagery of Santa Claus in American Christmas tradition, while mostly stemming from the early church life of Saint Nicholas, was nevertheless a relatively recent creation.
Andrew Crislip, associate professor at the Department of History at Virginia Commonwealth University and an expert in Christian history, told The Christian Post that much of the modern Santa Claus mythology comes from the Victorian Era.
"I cannot see much in the way of similarities between early church tradition about St. Nicholas and the contemporary portrait, which is more a product of 19th and 20th century popular culture," said Crislip.
According to Crislip, Saint Nicholas' story mostly comes from church tradition and that veneration of St. Nicholas in any way came long after his death.
"While church tradition holds that St. Nicholas was a bishop in what is today Turkey in the early fourth century, there is not much evidence for any veneration of him until the sixth century, and he only became widely venerated much later than that," said Crislip.
"Church tradition holds that he was arrested during the Great Persecution (303-306), but not executed. Historians tend to view such stories of saints arrested, tortured, and executed during times of persecution with great skepticism."