Santa banned (briefly) as ‘too Christian’

Mike Brown

A t least we’ve got something to thank the Political Correctness crowd for. They sure keep columnists in business.

For a couple of days last week a hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, banned Santa Claus from visiting its patients because someone apparently thinks Santa is mentioned in the second chapter of Luke.

Here’s the background. For two years a 67-year-old retiree named Frank Cloyes has come to Hollings Cancer Center, dressed as Santa, and passed out snacks and good wishes to patients awaiting chemotherapy.

This year, however, the hospital planned to cancel Cloyes’s annual trip. Why? Hollings Cancer Center is affiliated with the state and Santa is just too Christian.

“ Decorations w ill be more secular and respectful to all beliefs,” spokesperson Vicky Agnew told the Charleston Post & Courier. “...We need to think of the bigger picture. People who are Muslim or Jewish, or have no religious beliefs, come here for treatment.”

Santa, too Christian? Surely it must have been something Cloyes was doing. Was he handing out tracts? Inviting people to prayer meetings? Recruiting altos for the chancel choir?

Turns out Cloyes isn’t even religious. He’s not affiliated with any religion and calls himself a libertarian.

“I just wanted to put a little joy in their lives,” he told the newspaper.

I’ve seen, and you have too, groups bemoaning the secularization of Christmas, symbolized by the secular Santa becoming the focus instead of the yearly observance of Christ’s birth.

Execept, I guess, in South Carolina, where Santa is apparently the fourth wise man. But didn’t Santa start out as a religious symbol? Aren’t Santa and “Saint Nicholas” the same?

Not even close. Saint Nicholas was the fourth century Greek Bishop of Myra in what is Turkey today.

He became famous for his generosity, especially giving gifts to the poor. Look at paintings of him. He doesn’t look like Santa Claus. He looks like—surprise—a fourth century Greek.

The idea that would become Santa really got rolling about the 15th century when the Dutch came up with “Sinterklaas.”

The name gets closer and so do some of the concepts, but we’re definitely not yet at the modern Mr. Claus.

For instance, Sinterklaas arrives on a boat from Spain in mid-November, with his assistants, bearing a book which contains lists of the kids who have been good and bad during the past year. (Editor’s note: “ Good” and “bad” were terms used by primitives in the pre-Political Correctness era. Nowadays, of course, people just make “ behavioral choices.”)

Sinterklaas rides his horse over Dutch rooftops at night and leaves presents for the good kids. His assistants, though, beat the bad kids with willow canes!

In another couple of hundred years the concept evolved even more with the British Father Christmas.

He was chubbier and much less serious than Sinterklaas, wore a green robe and brought the Santa idea into the English speaking world.

All those strands came together in Clement Clark Moore’s famous 1820 poem “ The Night Before Christmas,” in which he creates what is more or less our modern concept of Santa, while calling him “Saint Nick,” even though we’ve obviously come a long way from the bishop of 1,500 years previously.

By 1866, cartoonist Thomas Nast had placed Santa at the North Pole. Mrs. Claus was introduced in an 1889 poem by Katherine Lee Bates, the author of “America the Beautiful.”

That brings us back to Charleston and Frank Cloyes. After the newspaper article came out, the holly really hit the fan and the hospital backed off and said he would be welcome.

So everything’s great in the Palmetto State. Except....

When Santa was banned as too Christian, the hospital released a backside- covering statement saying it would still have the, presumably more non-religious, Christmas trappings like garlands, wreaths and poinsettias.”

That’s wreaths, which symbolize the advent of Christ’s birth.

And poinsettias, which symbolize Christ’s blood.

Well, ho, ho, ho.

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2011-11-24 digital edition

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