Fort Smith, Arkansas on a cold Christmas Eve night in 1962……..Santa Claus was coming!
I was sitting in my parents small living room watching TV. At ~8:00 pm the local news broadcaster interrupted the programming to announce that the Fort Smith radar had just picked up Santa Claus and his reindeer as they crossed the Arkansas border. Their arrival in Fort Smith could only be a matter of a couple of hours—maybe even less than that if Arkansas had more than its share of mean kids! Enough said! My younger sister and I, already clad in our pajamas, beat a quick retreat to our beds. There was no way we were going to be caught out of bed by Santa as he crept through our rickety back door (not everyone had a chimney)! We were so excited we could not imagine actually falling asleep but, of course, sleep eventually overcame us.
When we awoke at the crack of dawn we were thrilled to see that Santa had done his best. Magical in every sense of the word.
That Christmas of 1962 was the last “Santa Claus” Christmas for me. In the childhood years that followed Christmas continued to be a joyful and thrilling time of year. A time that always seemed to bring out the best in people. For those very few days every year the sharp edges of life were diminished, if only temporarily. But….after the departure of Santa just a wee bit of the magic was gone—never to be replaced.
Where did Santa come from?
The History of Santa Claus–From Saint Nicholas to Santa
Throughout his history Santa Claus has also been known as “Saint Nick”, “Father Christmas” and “Kris Kringle”. The moniker of “Saint Nick” was derived from Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas was a 4th century bishop from the Byzantine empire. The legend of Santa Claus sprung from Saint Nicholas.
The tradition began sometime during the middle ages and was primarily Catholic in nature. During the early part of each December children were given gifts in honor of Saint Nicholas. During this period there was no emphasis on the “naughty or nice” aspect of a child’s behavior. This tradition lasted until the Reformation at which point the emphasis was shifted away from Saint Nicholas and onto Christ. As a result, Saint Nicholas morphed into Santa Claus. In the generations that followed a child’s Christmas bounty was allegedly tied to his or her behavior. A wonderful behavior modification tool within a parent’s toolbox!
The Future of Santa Claus
Children growing up in the 50’s and 60’s may have had the sweetest Santa Clause experiences. On average, our parents had a bit more disposable income than did their parents and grandparents. Economic conditions had improved significantly since the end of the Great Depression and World War II. More emphasis could be placed on Santa Claus and the role he played in the provision of childhood memories. Equally important was our childhood naivete. We were more easily deceived. We had fewer expectations and, therefore, much less self-entitlement. The “instant gratification” plague was not yet upon us. Having to wait until Christmas for a prized gift was a simple reality that had to be dealt with. We were simpler and we grew up at a much slower pace. A combination of circumstances, time, and place that created a nostalgic sweet spot for Santa Claus.
Santa in the 21st Century
It must be difficult for parents today to propagate the Santa mystique for their children. Their children seem to possess a BS radar that we did not have. Our parents did not have to cope with all of the potential sources of secret-spoiling that today’s parents have to guard against. It was much easier for our parents to keep and protect secrets. During our childhood the Christmas season lasted three weeks. Intense but short. Today’s children are exposed to an eight to ten week Christmas and Santa blitz. As children, our senses were not under constant attack from TV, movies, YouTube, or the internet. Children today appear to be at, or very near, sensory overload. Innocence seems to wear off much faster. Where is Santa’s place in such an environment?
Maybe Santa’s time is marked. I sincerely hope that is not the case. Children still need to believe in the unbelievable…at least for a little while.