Yes, Zionsville, There is a Santa Claus
Writer // Janelle Morrison
In 1897, 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the editor of The New York Sun, asking if there was a Santa Claus. The editor, Francis P. Church, was a former war correspondent during the Civil War, a time that witnessed great suffering and a lack of hope and faith in society. Church responded to O’Hanlon in a letter with the notion, “The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see.” I decided to interview Santa Claus and see for myself if there is truly a St. Nicholas (Nick), Santa Claus or Kris Kringle in our midst.
The story of St. Nicholas began around 280 A.D. in Patara, near modern-day Turkey. It is said that he gave away all of his inheritance to help the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three impoverished sisters from a fate worse than death by providing them with a dowry, so they could be married. St. Nicholas’s popularity spread, and by the Renaissance, he was the most notable saint in Europe. St. Nicholas was made popular in American culture toward the end of the 18th century and has been immortalized by numerous authors, cartoonists/illustrators, songwriters and filmmakers.
Throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, St. Nicholas (now better known in the U.S. as Santa Claus) has been enlisted by countless nonprofit organizations like The Salvation Army and department stores like Macy’s to help solicit donations and shoppers during the holiday season.
I asked Mr. Claus about his humble beginnings and how he has evolved over time and throughout many places in the world.
“My story began way back when I, Santa, saw a need to not only help those in need of a dowry but for all of those who needed some hope,” Claus said. “As time went on, my story has evolved, and I became even more popular throughout not only Europe but also in the United States. I became more commercialized and more like the tradition that you see today. Back in the older days, I wore more of the ‘old world’ Santa clothes that were dark in color. My modern attire is more bright with the recognizable red and white.”
Claus explained to me that he didn’t always ride around bringing gifts to the children of the world in a sleigh but began in a wagon. Only later in the 1800s, via a poem by Clement C. Moore, “A Visit from St. Nicholas” [better known today as the epic poem “’Twas the Night before Christmas”], did Claus get an upgrade from goats pulling his sleigh to flying reindeer.
I asked Claus about his beloved flying reindeer, elves and, of course, Mrs. Claus.
“Mrs. Claus does so much more than just bake cookies,” Claus emphasized. “She is involved with a lot of things that take place at the North Pole. People think that Santa is a cookie eater all the time, and well, that’s one thing that has gotten me a little bigger in the middle range. But Mrs. Claus is telling me that I need to be fit, so she’s got me not only driving the sleigh but running behind it as well, so I can get down all those chimneys. Ho, Ho, Ho!”
Claus shared that his all-time favorite cookies are the ones made by children – they’re the ones made with “sugar and love.”
“You’ve heard of Rudolph, my red-nosed reindeer? He’s a special reindeer. If the weather gets really bad, he can get us through the fog and snow. Have you ever heard of the ‘Reindeer Games’? Oh, we have so much fun, and the reindeer come up with so much mischief. People always ask, ‘Santa, why do you let them do that?’ and I always tell them, ‘Well, everybody likes to have fun.’”
Claus continued, “Santa has many helpers. You’ve heard about the elves? The elves take care of making toys, but have you seen the ‘Elf on the Shelf’? You see, there is a ‘Santa Patrol’ that keeps a lookout for children who have been good and not just during Christmas time. At any time of the year, you may not see me [Santa], but my patrol is out there keeping an eye of things for me. Parents often want me to know when their child has been bad, and I don’t want them to be bad, but my job is to make toys and encourage children, not punish them. I don’t have to tell them that they’ve been bad. They know when they’ve been bad.”
I asked what this time of year means to Claus and what he thinks it should mean to us.
“Have you ever thought about being in a sleigh all night when it’s snowing?” Claus queried. “It’s not easy at all, but it gives me great joy when I give a gift to a child or when I encourage a child that needs it the most. Christmas is a great time for seeing those and doing something for those who need help, whether that’s giving other people a warm meal or giving them a pair of warm socks or gloves.”
Santa paused and then said, “I want to encourage everybody to be good throughout the year and to encourage everybody to know that Santa cares about them. I always say that you’re never too old to look for and believe in Santa. Whenever someone asks me if I am real, I reply, ‘I think I am real. Are you real?’ I’m not sure that there are many people who don’t believe in their hearts that there really is a Santa or hope that Santa’s real. People always hope that there is something good in the world and that there is something or someone who can make a change in their lives. But where does change come from? It comes from your heart, and in your heart is where Santa wants to be.”
For a complete list of Christmas in the Village activities including when Santa is in residence at his house on Main Street, visit zionsvillechamber.org.