Christmas – The History of Saint Nicholas & Other Holiday Traditions

Christmas – The History of Saint Nicholas & Other Holiday Traditions: The celebration of Christmas wasn’t always what it is today. In fact, the celebration of Christmas used to be illegal in America! Join us today as we dive deeper into this subject. We’ll also be looking specifically at the history behind Saint Nicholas. Tune in now for more!

Air Date: 12/12/2018

Guest: Bill Federer

On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton


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Transcription note:  As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.

Faith And The Culture

Rick:

Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live! Where we’re talking about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture. Always doing that from a biblical, historical, and constitutional perspective.

We’re here with David Barton, America’s premier historian and the founder of WallBuilders. Tim Barton’s with us, national speaker and pastor, and president of WallBuilders. And my name is Rick Green, I’m a former Texas legislator.

We want to tell you Merry Christmas and we’ve got a great program talking about some of the traditions of Christmas and how they came about. But we also want to encourage you to go to our website today, WallBuilders.com, we’ve actually got two of them, WallBuilders.com and WallBuildersLive.com.

And at either website you’re going to get a lot of great information and also have the opportunity to come alongside us as a partner. This is a listener supported program and these great interviews and information that we bring you on a daily basis that inspires, and equips, and gives you a chance to be a part of the solution in America, it all happens because of our supporters like you.

So, if you could please check out WallBuilders.com and WallBuildersLive.com today and think about us for one of your end of year gifts, we would greatly appreciate it.

David, Tim, Christmas is right around the corner. Sometimes we either just get on one end of the extreme and say, “Oh, I’m not doing anything with Christmas, it’s all Pagan.” Or we go to the other end of the extreme and we forget the real reason of the season. So, today we’re going to try to bring a little bit of balance by just giving some history on some of the traditions of America’s Christmas these days.

This Is Our Recent Experience

David:

Yeah, Rick, we have a real tendency to really kind of use what we call modernism where we interpret historical facts, historical events, on the basis of what we experience right now and how we think about it right now.

When you look at Christmas right now we generally see that as a fairly wholesome holiday. Yeah, there’s grinches out there and there’s people who want to file lawsuits, and say you can’t sing Christmas carols, or use red and green colors, or whatever. But generally, we see it as a fairly wholesome holiday.

Well, that’s our recent experience. There was a time in America where it was an illegal holiday. We go, man, how much of a Grinch were they? Well, it wasn’t. It was kind of like for them back then it was like Mardi Gras on steroids. If you know Mardi Gras happens there before Lent. That’s a really wild party time and most people don’t realize that Christmas was once like that. So, there’s some pretty good perspectives on looking back into history and seeing stuff.

Tim:

Yeah, you couldn’t argue that Mardi Gras is a religious holiday to honor God. Well, likewise, it used to be you couldn’t argue Christmas was a religious holiday to honor God because of the behavior that was associated with their celebrations.

And certainly, if you go back to more kind of the Middle Ages era there were a lot of things that were happening in the church under the influence of governments, that state control where the king, the rulers at the time, were kind of dictating the festivals, and the feasts, and all that was going to go on. And it certainly got away from the idea of Christmas being about Christ. Which, even today we don’t have the same kind of Mardi Gras celebrations around Christmas, right. It’s certainly not the debauchery that you see in some of these Mardi Gras celebrations. But we’ve even kind of forgotten some of the Christ in Christmas.

There Are Grinches Out There

Tim:

And, dad, as you mentioned, there’s grinches out there who say, “Wait, you cannot say “Christ” you can’t say “Christmas” it’s “holidays” and etc.. Well, what’s the holiday we’re celebrating? Oh, yeah, it’s Christmas. And what’s the basis? Oh, Christ.

So, there are grinches out there trying to stop it. But the commercialization is something that has long been fought in America. The early settlers coming over, the Pilgrims, the Puritans, the Quakers, they were fighting the commercialization of Christ. And this is something that certainly we see today. We don’t see the unwholesomeness of Christmas like maybe they saw some of those traditions back then. But even the commercialization is something that we’re still battling today. Helping us remember, no, Jesus is, in fact, the reason for the season.

Rick:

Well, coming up after the break we’re going to Bill Federer with us giving us some of that background on who St. Nicholas was. And I–

David:

Whoa, whoa, whoa, St. Nicholas was a real person?

Rick:

St. Nicholas was a real– And this is the thing – I didn’t know any of this. You remember Kirk Cameron had that Christmas movie, what, a year or two ago and we had him on to talk about that and I went and I saw it. And it’s kind of a similar deal. I learned so much about actually there was a real St. Nicholas, there’s a real story behind how we got this Santa Claus character we talk about today.

Tim:

And actually, he was a good guy. He–

David:

He was.

Tim:

He did some very honorable things. And there was a reason that he was held in high esteem and then ultimately became a saint. But there was a reason that he was honored.

There’s nothing wrong with looking back and honoring people of faith, great people that have gone before us. Right? Whether we look at America and we want to honor George Washington, or, you know, you can pick names, right, Ronald Reagan and who you want to honor. That’s great.

A Really Good Story

Tim:

Well, you can even go back in the Christian faith and you can point to the Apostle Paul, or Peter, or James, or John. There’s nothing wrong with honoring people. And St. Nick was certainly somebody who did things worthy of honor and even worthy of emulation. But most people don’t know that story.

David:

Well, it’s interesting today that there are images of Santa Claus kneeling down at the manger and that drives a lot of advertisers crazy. And we’ve seen even buses ban those ads. That was actually the real Saint Nick, that was his attitude. He was a Christian guy who knelt his heart to Christ. It’s a really good story.

Rick:

Even, I admit, I’ve seen some of those pictures and I’ve thought, “I don’t know if that’s a very–” it just feels like it’s kind of muddying the nativity scene or whatever. I thought that was weird too, but now that I’m learning the real story of Saint Nick I’m going, “Okay, yeah, that actually makes sense.”

So, this is going to be kind of fun. This is going to be one of those deals we’ve got Bill Federer and he, boy, he flies through a lot in a short period of time. We’re going to get a real education today on the history of St. Nicholas and some of those other traditions of Christmas.

You are going to greatly enjoy today’s program. Stay with us. Bill Federer our special guest today on WallBuilders Live.

Join Us In Israel!

Hey guys what are you doing January 28th through February 7th? If you said you don’t know, let me give you an idea. We are going to Israel. Rick Green, my dad, David Barton, Tim Barton, our families are going and we would love for you to go with us. We are going to the Holy Land if you’ve ever been to Israel this is something as a Christian that will make you forever read your bible differently.

To see where Jesus walked, where He lived, where He did miracles, where so much of the Bible took place. If you’ve ever read through the Bible and you’ve given it a mental picture, the mental picture will not do justice of what happens when you’re actually on the ground. If you’ve ever thought about the story of David and Goliath and you’ve envisioned what it looks like, we’re going to go to the actual field where it took place.

There are so many things that you will see that literally makes the Bible come to life. In fact, that’s the name of the tour group we’re going with is The Bible Comes to Life. Go to CMJacksboro.com. You can click on the link, it has an Israel itinerary, all kinds of details. Hope to see you on this trip this coming year.

Rick:

Welcome back. Thanks for staying with us here on WallBuilders Live. Good to have Bill Federer back with us author of 20 books, speaks all over the country every year, he’s got a daily radio feature called American Minute, and just a nice guy to boot, and brilliant information. Always love having you, Bill. Thanks for your time, man.

Bill Federer:

Well, Rick, it’s always great to be with you. And I appreciate your work, and WallBuilders, and David Barton, and Tim Barton, so much and just thank God for you.

Rick:

Well, right back at you and just a great time of year to have you back. Usually we talk about history, founding fathers, and even going back to the 1500s and 1600s. You educate us a lot on on what led up to that.

But it’s Christmas time, so we wanted to chat with you a little bit about the history of St. Nick.

The Most Popular Greek Orthodox Saint

Bill Federer:

Right. Well, St. Nicholas is the most popular Greek Orthodox saint. So, he is to the Greeks what Saint Patrick is to the Irish, what St. Peter is to Roman Catholics. And he lived during Roman times. So, during the first three centuries of Christianity there are ten major persecutions. And Christians are thrown to the lions.

So, during this time Nicholas is born. A of movement swept through the church called pietism. And it was this thought where if you really become a Christian you should give away all your money and join a monastery. So, sure enough, Nicholas is a Christian. His parents are elderly and die when he’s a teenager and he inherits a lot of money. And he decides he wants to give away his money to the poor, but he wants to do it anonymously.

So, he would sneak into town, throw money in the window of poor people, and they wouldn’t know, so the glory would go to God and not to him. So, one of the famous stories that you see on a whole lot of the Greek Orthodox churches, and in their little icons, and their stained glass windows, is Nicholas throwing money and there’s three daughters and then a merchant.

The story is this merchant in the town of Patara had gone bankrupt. And back then, the creditors would not only take your house and lands, they would take your children, sort of sex trafficking. And the girls’ dad, this merchant thought, well, if he could hurry up and marry his daughters off the creditors couldn’t take him. Unfortunately, he did not have money for a dowry which was needed in that area of the world for a legally recognized wedding.

Nicholas hears the problem, throws some money in the window. Supposedly it lands in a shoe or a stocking that’s drying by the fireplace. The oldest daughter has a dowry, gets married, does it for the second daughter. When he throws it in for the third daughter the dad was waiting up, runs outside, catches him, and Nicholas makes the father promise not to tell where the money came from because he wants the glory to go to God. So, this was the origin of the tradition of secret gift giving–

Rick:

Wow.

Going Back in History

Bill Federer:

–and midnight visits from St. Nicholas on the anniversary of his death which was December 6 343 A.D. – about a century before St. Patrick.

Anyway, the Greeks have lots of stories. One was that he became a bishop of Myra and was arrested and was put in prison awaiting death. And then the emperor Diocletian is struck with an intestinal disease so painful he abdicates the throne. May 1st, 305 A.D.. This is unheard of to have an emperor– And the emperors were declaring themselves a god, so this is sort of like a god resigning.

The next emperor continues the persecution of Christians. He’s struck with an intestinal disease and dies, his name was Gelareas. And in Rome when there was no emperor in line it’s a toss up between the generals and they would fight it out. So, Constantine was a general in York, England. Actually, it was Britain. So, the soldiers surround him, say “Hail Caesar”, he marches down to Rome, and fights Maxentius. Battle of the Milvian Bridge 312 A.D..

Supposedly the day before the battle Constantine sees the sign of Christ in the sky. The Greek name for Christ begins with an “X” that’s called *“cai” and then the r sounding letter is written as a big “P”, it’s called *“ro” – Cairo. So, you see the third and fourth century Roman Christian artwork that’s got the big X and a P. So, Constantine puts this on his shields as symbols, he wins, issues the Edict of Milan 313 A.D., and now it’s okay to be a Christian.

By the way, over the centuries that X got shortened, the XP, the Cairo, got shortened just to the X and it was called a “Christ’s cross” or “criss cross”. So, that’s where we get the abbreviation for Christ. So, if you see the “x-mas” and you think, “Oh, they’re crossing out Christ.” No, that was the Greek letter *“cai” that stood for Christ. It was a Christ cross.

Rick:

Oh wow. Interesting.

Diana Worship and Abortion in Rome

Bill Federer:

Anyway, so Nicholas is let out of jail and he preaches publicly against paganism. Nearby was the temple to Diana at Ephesus. The Apostle Paul preached there against Diana worship and it was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – 127 huge pillars and temple prostitutes. It was the Las Vegas of the Mediterranean. This thing was twice as big as the Acropolis on the Parthenon there in Athens today. It was huge.

So, Nicholas preaches against it, the people get stirred up, and they tear the temple to Diana down. And then he preaches against the exposure of unwanted infants. It was their version of abortion where the Roman mother would bear the child, lay it at the father’s feet, if he did not pick it up, the mother had to put it in a box outside the house and it would be exposed to the elements and die. And the early Christians would hear the babies crying and collect them. That’s where you get the stories of a baby left in a basket in front of a door, right? You know?

Rick:

Yeah.

Bill Federer:

And then he preached against corrupt politicians. So, there was this Roman governor that was about to execute some soldiers as scapegoats to take the blame for his corruption. Nicholas hears about it, runs down to the execution square, breaks through the crowd, grabs the sword out of the executioner’s hand, and throws it down. And then in front of everybody tells what the corrupt governor was doing. Well, the governor knows nobody could know the details other than God, so it was sort of like a word of knowledge, so he repents and so forth.

So, Nicholas was known as a real fiery preacher. Today he would be speaking against sexual immorality, he’d be pro-life, he’d be– And then there’s the Arian heresy.

So, a guy named Arius– the first three centuries of Christianity, Christians don’t live long enough to argue over doctrine. They’re thrown to the lions in the Coliseum, right, with the persecutions.

The Rise of Arianism

Bill Federer:

So, now that it’s okay to be a Christian because of the Edict of Milan 313 A.D., you have a guy named Arius who says Jesus is a created being, he’s a little less than God, and it’s called Arianism. And he writes a catchy song, the Visigoths, who were some people group that came into Rome, they convert en masse to Arianism. Now it’s splitting the church. And because Constantine had made the church sort of the established belief system of the empire, it’s splitting the Roman Empire.

So, Constantine orders all the bishops to Nicea – first time ever all the Christian bishops are in one place. Constantine foots the bill and they settle it. They write the Nicene Creed, which is still used today–

Rick:

Yeah.

Bill Federer:

–and the tradition is that Nicholas was so upset at Arius for starting the Arian heresy that Nicholas slapped Arius across the face on the floor of the conference. So, jolly old St. Nick had a little temper.

Rick:

Oh wow.

Bill Federer:

So, he dies 346 a D.. And you know how the Catholics have a saying., “St. Peter’s at the gates of heaven”?

Rick:

Yeah.

Bill Federer:

Well, the Greeks do a take on the verse in the book of Revelation where Jesus will return at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead riding a white horse. And the saints will come back with Him riding white horses. And St. Nicholas is a saint, so he’ll be one of those riding a white horse. But since he’s such a special saint to the Greeks they have him coming back once a year for a little mini judgment, a little check up on the kids, make sure they’re on the right track, see who’s naughty, see who’s nice.

Rick:

Aha.

See Where Some Traditions Came From

Bill Federer:

And the Saints come from where – heaven, the celestial City, the New Jerusalem. That turns into the North Pole. In Norway they don’t have horses, so he’s riding a reindeer. And the Lamb’s Book of Life and the book of works turns into the book of the naughty and the nice, and the angel’s turn into the elves. So, you can sort of see where the traditions started to get a little bit embellished and off track.

Then you have the Muslims invade Greece and they destroyed churches and graves. So, the Christians moved the grave of their famous St. Nicholas from Myra, which is the town on the southwest coast of Turkey today. They moved his bones over to Italy, a little town called Bari – BARI. And there is a big cathedral there to this day, Cathedral Nicola Di Bari, and the pope, Urban II, dedicates this church with the Greek Orthodox St. Nicholas remains.

And the same pope Urban II, after he dedicates the church, he goes to the consulate Clairemont and begs these European kings to send help to these Greeks that are getting killed by the invading Muslims. They send help, it’s called the First Crusade.

So, the same Pope that welcomes the St. Nicholas traditions to Western Europe is the same one that calls for the first crusade.

Rick:

Wow.

Bill Federer:

Anyway, St. Francis of Assisi, sort of in protest a couple of centuries later, comes up with the nativity scene, the Christ scene, saying all this gift giving is fine, but we need to get back to the reason for the season, Jesus was born in the manger. And then Martin Luther starts the Reformation. And by this time there’s a saint’s day for every day of the year and he considers this a distraction from Christ. So, he ends the saints days and says, “Look, all gifts come from the Christ child.” So, he moves the gift giving to December 25th.

Kris Kringle Means “Christ Child”?

Bill Federer:

The German pronunciation of Christ child is “Chris Kindl” like kindergarten, KinderCare. Over the centuries “Chris Kindl” got pronounced “Kris Kringle”.

Rick:

Wow.

Bill Federer:

So, Kris Kringle is really “Chris Kindl” which means Christ child. And Martin Luther moved all the gift giving to December 25th, the birth of the Christ child. So, fascinating story. I don’t know how much time I have left. I could add a couple more.

Rick:

Keep going. This is incredible. Go ahead.

Bill Federer:

So, in England, Henry the Eighth–

Rick:

And, by the way, Bill, let me just interrupt you one second because if we lose some of our listeners here I want them to know that you’ve got all of this in a book, There Really is a Santa Claus – History of St. Nicholas and Christmas Holiday Traditions. So, they can read the stories that you’re sharing this morning and you can get it at Amazon today or Bill’s website. We’ll make links to all that available. In fact, give out your website real quick, Bill.

Bill Federer:

It’s AmericanMinute.com.

Rick:

Okay, alright, go ahead. Sorry, I interrupted you.

Fines for Anyone Caught Celebrating Christmas

Bill Federer:

No, no. So, Henry the Eighth brings the Reformation to England, but not because he had a spiritual experience like Martin Luther. He just wanted another wife. And the pope wouldn’t recognize his divorce, so he sort of makes himself his own pope, ends up having six wives.

But during Henry the Eighth’s time in England, Christmas becomes a party time, a carousing, drinking, *, where you take a drink of booze and throw the rest of it on some plant for a nice harvest the next year. Sort of like Mardi Gras was the day before Lent when you would fast 40 days before Easter. And now Mardi Gras is as lewd party in New Orleans. That’s sort of what happened to Christmas in England.

So, when the Puritans took over England in 1642 they outlawed Christmas. One of the Puritan leaders that founded Massachusetts, Cotton Mather, he said, “Can you in your conscience think that our holy Savior is honored by mad mirth, long eating, and hard drinking, and lewd gaming, and revelry fit for a bakas or a night of Mohammad and *Robinon?”

Anyway, so, the Puritans in Massachusetts actually had a five shilling fine for anybody caught celebrating Christmas. It wasn’t till the Dutch settled New York in 1624, and the Dutch loved Saint Nicholas.

Matter of fact, to this day in Holland, they have St. Nicholas coming back once a year as a saint, as a bishop, with his mieder hat, his staff, his robes, and he’s riding a white horse. But they have him coming from Spain and he has with him a little helper named Zwarte Piet, Black Peter, and he’s dressed as a moore, as a Muslim. And they tell the little Dutch kids if you’re good, St. Nicholas will give you a present, if you are naughty Zwarte Piet will put you in a gunny sack, take you back to Spain, and sell you into Muslim slavery.

Rick:

Wow.

You Come Up With Santa Claus

Bill Federer:

That’s right. So, I was actually talking to a Dutch guy and he goes, “Yeah, every little boy in my neighborhood, the night before St. Nicholas visited, we would all make sure we go to sleep with a pocket knife in our pocket.” I said, “Why is that?” He goes, “That’s to cut ourselves out of the gunny sack in case Zwarte Piet took us.”

Rick:

Wow.

Bill Federer:

So, I had a bunch of little brothers, I would have loved to have tormented them with that – “Hey, St. Nicholas is coming. I might not see you anymore.” But anyway, so the Dutch settled New Amsterdam and the Dutch pronunciation of “St. Nicholas” is “Sant Niclaus”. Or Sinter Claus. So, if you say “Sant Niclaus” a couple of times, you come up with Santa Claus.

Rick:

Yeah.

Bill Federer:

So, Santa Claus is basically the Dutch pronunciation of St. Nicholas.

And three more little parts – one, in– New Amsterdam becomes New York 1664. And there is a author in New York named Washington Irving. We know him because he wrote Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle, named the City Gotham City. But he writes Dietrich Knickerbockers History of New York in 1809 and he tells the Dutch founding. And he says St. Nicholas visits the kids once a year and drops presents down the chimneys and rides off on his wagon over the treetops.

But he describes St. Nicholas not as a bishop, but in a typical Dutch outfit of long trunk hose, a hat, a leather belt, boots. And then in New York, 1823, is a Hebrew professor at the Episcopal Theological Seminary named Clement Moore. His family donated the land for the Theological Seminary. Matter of fact, there’s a park at 10th and 22nd in New York named the Clement Moore park.

Shrunk in Size

Bill Federer:

So, he writes a poem for his children, A Visit From St. Nicholas, “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care in hopes that St. Nicholas would soon be there.” So, he’s still a saint, but he’s sort of shrunk in size. So, he’s a chubby plump red jolly old elf, “I laughed when I saw him in spite of myself.”

Second last addition is Civil War and there’s a magazine, Harper’s Weekly Magazine, and an illustrator named Thomas Nast. We know him because he invented the Republican elephant and the Democrat mule, which we still use today. And he has a picture of St. Nicholas on his wagon filled full of toys addressing the Union troops with a North Pole sign in the background. Lo and behold it was a political jab at the South to say St. Nicholas is associated with the North.

And then you have Coca-Cola. They pioneered mass marketing. It’s the best known trademark name in the world. So, in 1930 Coca-Cola hires an artist named Hadyn Sun Bluhm. We know him because he invented the Quaker Oats man and Aunt Jemima syrup.

Rick:

Wow.

Bill Federer:

And they have, for the next 33 years, Coca-Cola has Hadyn Sun Bluhm do a painting of Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, drinking Coca-Cola. Now he’s full grown again, he’s a nice huggable grandfather, rosy cheeks, and ruddy complexion, and that has become the most recognizable image of St. Nicholas around the world.

But if you peel back the layers there really, really, was a Nicholas who lived in Asia Minor. Today, that’s Turkey. Who loved Jesus so much that he went into the ministry. He kept his Christian faith so strong that he was imprisoned under the Roman Emperor Diocletian. He stood for the Bible for the doctrine of the Trinity. And he preached against paganism, and sexual immorality, and confronted corrupt politicians, and he was very generous and gave to the poor.

But he wanted to do it anonymously because he wanted the glory to go to God. So, just a fascinating story of this real person of St. Nicholas.

So Many Pieces That Make Sense Now

Rick:

Incredibly fascinating. So, many pieces of that puzzle that makes sense now. I just love it. Thank you so much for sharing with us today. I think people are really going to look forward to reading the book, There Really is a Santa Claus – History of St. Nicholas and Christmas Holiday Traditions. Bill Federer, always a pleasure to have you. I wish we had more time. Merry Christmas to you and thank you for sharing so much with us today.

Bill Federer:

Well, thank you, Rick, and blessings to all the listeners. Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good night.

Rick:

Amen. That has been Bill Federer joining us today for an amazing education on the history of Christmas traditions in America. The book is called, There Really is a Santa Claus – History of St. Nicholas and Christmas Holiday Traditions. And you can get it today at Bill’s website, AmericanMinute.com or at Amazon. But I encourage you to get it. What great read. What incredible information.

This has been a really fun interview. I have learned so much today. There’s a lot of dots connected in terms of how we got to even some of the names, and the traditions, and the colors, and the different things that we do today when it comes to Christmas time. So, very special thanks to Bill Federer for joining us today.

Christmas – The History of Saint Nicholas & Other Holiday Traditions

Rick:

Thank you for listening today. And, by the way, thank you for supporting WallBuilders. If you get a chance today go to WallBuildersLive.com and think about us as an end of year gift. If you could make a donation it helps us to teach the things that we learned today and so many other the things that we do here at WallBuilders – our youth leadership programs, and pastors briefings we host in Washington D.C., legislators trainings, all the different things we do. It’s because of your gifts that that is even possible.

So, as you approach the end of the year and you think about some of those end of the year donations, hope you’ll consider WallBuilders Live as one of those and maybe even sign up to do one of our monthly donations over the next 12. But we greatly appreciate your considering us for that and hope you’ve enjoyed today’s program.

Thank you so much for listening to WallBuilders Live.

2018-12-14T13:57:07+00:00December 12th, 2018|Holidays & Proclamations|0 Comments

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