Bright decorations, twinkling lights, mysterious parcels and canned carols! There is a look of celebration in the air, but not always in the faces. The business of Christmas has arrived.
What is it all about? You could be forgiven for thinking all it concerns is a large figure, overdressed in a red outfit, lavishly trimmed in white, and half-hidden behind a huge white beard. This, as the children will tell you, is Father Christmas – and a surprising number of them still believe that he is the source of the gifts that they collect on Christmas Day. How did he get into the picture?
Well, ‘things go better with Coke!’ And although Coca-Cola didn’t invent him, they took the idea and ran with it in one of the most amazing marketing campaigns of all time.
Prior to 1931 Santa Claus, as he was known, was portrayed in a variety of shapes, sizes and outfits, of different kinds and colours – including red. The modern-day Santa Claus is a combination of a number of the stories from a variety of countries.
His origins, however, are said to go back to St Nicholas, a saint in the fourth century. He was known for helping the poor and for secretly giving gifts to those who needed them. After a while all secret gifts were said to come from him. In the 16th Century the stories and traditions about him became unpopular in Europe, and in Britain his name was replaced by Father Christmas, a person referred to in some old children’s stories.
In 1931 Coke decided to use him in their advertising, and commissioned an illustrator names Haddon Sundblom to produce images of a real Santa. He was inspired by an 1822 poem called ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’ – better known as ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ – and the impression it left of Santa being ‘warm, friendly, pleasantly plump and human.’ For the next 33 years he continued producing portraits of Santa – often with a Coke in his hand! They helped form the picture of him that exists in people’s minds today. The fact that he was dressed in Coke’s colours, whilst not original, was certainly useful.
But what about Christmas itself? It is the English name of the Festival celebrating the Birth of Jesus Christ. It appears to have been first celebrated during the 4th Century. The practice spread until, during the 6th Century, it was widely observed on 25 December.
Somehow, the Christ part of Christmas – and even the St Nicholas part – seems to have been swamped by the secular commercialism of the day. One little girl responded to the question, ‘Why, if it is Jesus’ birthday, do we get the presents?’ with an immediate, ‘Because He loves us!’ Difficult to argue with that one.
‘Because He loves us’ – the Bible has something to say along those lines – as does the witness of countless Christians who have encountered that love. St Nicholas, too, would have understood that love – revealed in a baby, who grew to be a man, became a Saviour, was proclaimed as King, died and rose again, ascended to His Father, and will come again in glory. Yes – it is quite a day. And, for those who believe, worthy of a celebration.
Many Christian churches will be holding their own carol services – with real music and singers! All will have special services to mark the occasion. Visitors are always welcomed.
One of these is St Luke’s Anglican Church, 18 High Road, Orchards, where Sue Cock will lead their Carol Service on Sunday 20 December at 19h00. Weather permitting, it will be on the lawns, if not, in the church.
For further information on St Luke’s Anglican Church follow the links alongside.