Jolly Old St. Nicholas
The holiday season is here again, and other than an awkward moment now and again at the store when I think the cashier isn't sure how to close the transaction, I haven't heard too much about appropriate seasonal greetings this year. Perhaps the story was killed last year. Perhaps I just lead a sheltered life. I don't mind being wished "Happy Holidays." Or anything else for that matter. I have been wished "Happy Hannukah" and of course "Merry Christmas," but I generally accept all kindly greetings in the spirit they are intended. It would be nice if those poor cashiers could wish me whatever it was in their heart to wish me (so long as it is civil, I guess).

I've gotten used to the commercialization of Christmas. Everything is commercialized these days. I don't really fault Wal-Mart for having their seasonal displays up months before the holidays begin. It is kind of nice for people like me, because things seem to be going on clearance right about the time I'm thinking about buying them. I do wonder a bit about those millions of other people out there that make it profitable for stores to put out their displays earlier and earlier each year. But that is another story.

What does bother me is Santa. Yes, jolly old "St. Nick." Consider the following.

Santa is omniscient.

He sees you when you're sleeping.
He knows when you're awake.
He knows when you've been bad or good,
So be good for goodness sake.

Santa is omnipresent.

He participates in every parade around the country this time of year. He is in every mall. He is in every other movie or television program. And of course he is at the North Pole getting ready for the Big Night. I don't know what to make of that, either. In January of 1990, Spy Magazine published an interesting study on this famous seasonal character.
Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each house, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house...(read the rest).
Now, we know from Clement Clarke Moore's description in his famous poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas," that Santa spends considerably more time than 1/1000th of a second at each home. So he must be able to visit more than one at a time.

Santa is omnipotent.

Every year, the kind citizens of North Pole, Alaska receive thousands of letters addressed to Santa from around the world. Santa's elves answer his letters, delighting children with an answer and the North Pole postal mark. Sometimes they ask for the impossible. Fully expecting Santa to answer their prayers.
In his 10 years as an elf, Gabby Gaborik has seen every kind of request. There are the children who want the latest toys and gizmos they see on TV. There are the children who ask for miracles, orphans wanting their mother back for Christmas or a father back from Iraq, even though he died there. Many letter writers point out how good they've been. Some enclose a dollar bill to cover postage.
And then there are those elves.

Santa's benevolent little helpers. Where do they come from? Most Americans think of elves as friendly little beings. After all, they helped the shoemaker in Cologne with his shoemaking duties, didn't they?

Not exactly. That was a mistranslation. Those good-natured souls were not elves at all, but gnomes. In the Germanic tradition, elves are generally evil. Impish at best. In fact, the German word for "nightmare" (Alptraum) is a compound word using an older form of elf + dream. The most famous elf is the "Erlenkoenig" (Elven King) immortalized by Goethe in his poem by the same name. And his presence is synonymous with death. In the poem, a father is racing through the night to save his young boy when the elf king appears. The king attempts to entice the boy to follow him, showing him earthly treasures and beauty. Finally, near the dramatic ending, the king says, "...and if you aren't willing, I will use force." And the boy dies.

To be fair, there is an interesting discussion regarding the origins of the title and whether "Erlenkoening" can properly be translated as elven king. The word has ties to some southern gods, which Goethe may have had in mind. The root words, however, are the same. I'm no expert, but I believe the whole Germanic tradition of the elf may very well have stemmed from these ominous bringers of death. Either way, they aren't the nicest guys for Santa to be hanging out with.

Have a blessed Christmas. Enjoy the time with family and friends.

Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

--1Corinthians 1:3

Photo credits:

Christmas card, actually the world's first. Made by John Callcott Horsley (public domain)
Psychic Santa (cc license)
Rocket Santa
The Erlking (public domain)

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