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Santa Claus: the man behind the red suit

John Willoughby: Greene Publishing, Inc.

It's a phenomenon that's unable to be explained and it's a tradition that has lasted for years past and will last for years to come. On Tuesday, Dec. 25, Santa Claus will begin his trek from the North Pole to each and every country on God's green earth to deliver presents to children around the world. But just who is Santa Claus?

Besides the silky, white beard and the plush-like red suit, an image which was virtually cemented in the minds of people by Norman Rockwell and other artistic figures, Santa Claus is a favorite among children and adults alike. Many seem to develop a smile when Santa is spotted. One of the characteristics of our jolly friend is that he has been around for years and years, even delivering presents to our ancestors a long time ago, without looking for anything in return.

In the fourth century, a man named Nicholas was a bishop in the country now known as Turkey. Nicholas, whose birth was believed to be between A.D. 260 and 280, was not ordained and was one of three to be made a bishop without prior ordination. Due to his parents passing when he was merely a child, he inherited plenty and was considered a kind, gentle and wealthy man, with the reputation of helping the poor when no one was looking.

As the story is told, a poor man, who had three daughters, had little money for his daughters to get married. One night, when Nicholas heard about this hardship, he sneaked a bag of gold down the man's chimney. Familiar to us today, the legend states that the bag of gold fell into a stocking that was hung by a fire to dry. This custom allowed for the oldest daughter of three to get married. Later, Nicholas repeated the gesture, allowing for the second daughter to get married.

Around the third time Nicholas came around, the father hid by the fire and eventually caught Nicholas dropping in a bag of gold. Nicholas, being the generous person he was, begged for the father not to tell anyone, because he did not want the attention. The news, however, got out and Nicholas was later deemed a Saint.

Over the years, Santa Claus has taken on many forms and has been commercialized in many ways; most popularly, the Coca-Cola Santa Claus. What is your favorite memory of Santa Claus as a child and what does the spirit of Santa Claus mean to you today? Check out the following responses from local believers.

Jacob Bembry: "Santa Claus arrived in my neighborhood in Monticello in the back seat of a sheriff's patrol car with presents for all the kids. I can't remember what I got, but I do remember Santa in the backseat of the car like a common criminal."

Angel Donaldson Omans: "Since my Dad was in the fire department, we had a fire radio. Every Christmas Eve, at about 8 p.m., we would listen to the Fire, EMS and Sheriff's department chase Santa around the town. They would say 'He's on the way to Lee.' My sister and I would rush off to bed in a hurry so Santa would come."

Laurie Santerfeit Rice: "I grew up in St. Mary's, Ga. Santa Claus came to town on a train and gave every child a stocking with coloring books, crayons, silly putty, jacks and candy. I always adored those times and today, it makes me want to make memories with my family."

Judith W. Lundell: Santa came every year to the church Christmas Party at Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church. We usually got a sack of candy and an orange.

Judi Bremer: In 1954, I was four and Roy Smith had just married my sister. No one wore cowboy boots then, and when Santa entered the church, I evidently announced that Roy Smith was Santa since he had green cowboy boots!

So, is there a Santa Claus? I think it can only be answered through an excerpt of an article from "The New York Sun," written by Frances Pharcellus Church.

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus? It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished ...  A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood."

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