Posts Tagged Santa Claus

The Power Of Words

During this Christmas season, I listen—along with everybody else—to all the Christmas music that’s played on the radio and at the malls, and as always it brings back memories of all sorts of Christmases past.  But this year, for the first time, I’ve begun to hear the music and the words, slightly differently.  I’m beginning to recognize the power, or better the penetrance, of the words in our society.  Not that I hadn’t recognized it before, it’s just that I didn’t pay that much attention.

For example, take the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas,” by Clement Clarke Moore.  Moore isn’t the first to use the term “St. Nick,” to refer to the jolly old man we now call Santa Claus, but he’s the first to give the names of the reindeer.  He’s the first to describe the unique method St. Nick enters the house, and the fact that reindeer can fly.  All of that he put down in 1823.  That was the first year the poem was published, though at the time his name wasn’t attached to it.  (Apparently he didn’t acknowledge authorship until he published the poem a book of poems in 1844.)  But those reindeer names, that jolly old man, that unusual method of entry, has penetrated into modern society, especially here in the USA, so fully and so completely, we practically take it for granted, as though it was handed down to us on a silver platter from on high.  Yet it was just a poem, written by one person, with probably little regard as to how much influence it would ultimately have.  Even today, more than a century later, kids who live in a house without a chimney are afraid they won’t get presents.  “How will Santa Claus get in?” they wail.  It has made Christmas.

Another example.  Take the song, “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town.”  That’s the song that contains the famous (almost infamous) words, “He’s makin’ a list, checkin’ it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.”  Do you know of any other short line that has penetrated so fully into modern society (along with Moore’s poem, above)?  That one part of the song has risen above almost everything else to exert a considerable influence on kids today, especially the little ones.  Every kid is scared of being put on the naughty list.  It’s become so much a part of today’s Christmas celebration we joke about it all the time.  Yet, like Moore’s poem above, it started out simply as a song, almost certainly with little regard to its eventual impact on society.  (The song was written by Haven Gillespie and J. Fred Coots in 1934.)

So, if you ever doubt the ability of words to affect people years, even centuries, later, just look at those two examples.  There are many more, of course, especially outside of Christmas (The Bible, The Koran, The Declaration of Independence, etc., etc., etc.), but even something as simple as a poem or a song can have meaning and implications well beyond its original intent.  It’s almost impossible to deliberately sit down and write something that will have such an effect—I doubt if any of the authors above had any idea their words would be so well-regarded that far in the future.  Did Thomas Jefferson think his words “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .” would be so important two centuries later?  Hard to say.  You just have to do your best.

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