"The Night Before Christmas", the story of the exciting evening which we will await with childish glee this month, was first written in 1823. This is when Santa Claus was first publicized with his reindeer and sleigh. The earliest account of Santa Claus dates back to Saint Nicholas (270 - 310 A.D.). Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, a town in present-day Turkey, died on December 6. This established the date of a feast in his honor and is continuously still observed by the Dutch to celebrate the ancient Catholic custom, Sinter Klass. Nicholas was hailed as a miracle worker by the Russians and became known as the Patron Saint of Children. He loved children and often threw gifts through the windows of poor children.
When the Dutch immigrated to America and founded New Amsterdam (New York), the feast became gradually known as Santa Claus. Later the celebration was moved to the estimated date of the birth of Jesus. Other Christian denominations changed the name, but these names could not replace Santa Claus!
Now in another century, indeed, Millenium, the spirit of Christmas flourishes. The spirit is no longer bound by religious orthodoxy. Though variously interpreted in different regions and observed in different ways, the image of Christmas remains a vision of excitement, merry-making, gifts, and being with family and friends for a feast and celebration. Though marred by commercialism, and ignored or criticized by agnostics and other non-believers, the spirit cannot be denied or suppressed.
Thus, we all await this Christmas Eve with the excitement and joy that we first felt as a child. This feeling is real and forever lasting.
Merry Christmas to all! I'll be in touch next month.
Thomas Petty, MD
Professor of Medicine,
University of Colorado Health Sciences Center
Snowdrift Pulmonary Conference