Indiana Town Embodies Santa Claus And His Spirit Of Love, Peace, Joy
SANTA CLAUS, Ind. (CNS) – Belief in that iconic Christmas figure, the rotund merry man with a bag full of presents, inspires thousands of children to write letters addressed to "Santa Claus" each year.
Surprisingly, many of these wish lists actually do get delivered to Santa Claus. But rather than landing in a magical workshop at the North Pole, the notes wind up in a little Southwest Indiana town that bears the same name as the jolly old elf.
"We have already answered 5,000, and we'll be getting more this morning," Patricia Koch, founder of the Santa Claus Museum and Village, told Catholic News Service on Dec. 2. "They come from the U.S.A. and from all over the world."
Koch and a dozen other volunteers work long hours to "help" Santa answer the letters that find their way to the Santa Claus post office. Koch calls this letter-writing a ministry and is dedicated to keeping the spirit of Santa Claus, the person, alive.
"Our world can become very self-centered and commercialized," she explained, "so I think Santa Claus has that spirit of love and forgiveness and peace and joy."
"Just looking at his acts, we just see this kindness and seeing those who were less fortunate," said Father John Brosmer, pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Dale, which includes St. Nicholas Church in Santa Claus, St. Joseph Church in Dale and Mary, Help of Christians Church in Mariah Hill.
St. Nicholas, also known as Nicholas of Myra, was a bishop in present-day Turkey who lived from about A.D. 280 to 343. He was the orphaned son of wealthy parents, and one ancient story claims that he threw bags of gold through the window of an impoverished family in the dead of night.
"In later versions, he drops a bag of gold through the chimney where it lands in a stocking that was hung there to dry," explained Adam English, chair of the Christian studies department at Campbell University and author of the historical book "The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus."
"What's really memorable about it is that it's an absolutely ordinary act of charity, of goodwill. This is the kind of thing that anybody can do," English said.
That simple act of generosity inspired generations of anonymous gift-giving. Givers attributed mysterious presents to St. Nicholas and passed his story from culture to culture. In the Netherlands, his nickname was "Sinter Klaas," which evolved to "Santa Claus" when Dutch immigrants arrived in New York.
St. Nicholas' identity was forever established as a "jolly old elf" by the famous poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," penned by Clement Clarke Moore in 1822.
"(The poem) starts to change him from being a Christian bishop, stern and austere and presiding over the Eucharist, to being more of a gift-giver who's maybe more a magical creature," said English.
Today, the familiar images of this magical man are recreated throughout the town of Santa Claus. Huge statues that adorn the main highway and the town hall depict a smiling, rosy-cheeked figure with a large bag of toys, his red coat and hat looking nothing like clerical garb.
"You can't get away from Santa Claus here," laughed parishioner Deacon Jim Woebkenberg.
Every bright-eyed child who rushes to the Christmas tree on Dec. 25 is indebted to this saint for the legacy of giving. But just as the town of Santa Claus stays on the map even after the holiday season, the local pastor said that the true spirit of St. Nick leads Catholics to generosity all year long.
"Growing up as a Christian, you want to share your gifts you want to give of yourself," said Father Brosmer. "The true Christian is St. Nicholas; it's that generosity all the time."