As a pastor, I often get asked this question around Christmas time: “Should we tell our kids the truth about Santa Claus?” The obvious concern from parents who ask this question usually stems from a desire to not take anything away from celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
Personally, I’ve never quite understood the rationale that a fat jolly man wearing a red suit could somehow jeopardize the birth of Christ. But my response usually goes something like this, “By all means, tell your children about the real Santa Claus!” Of course, shock and confusion usually follows when they find out that I believe Santa Claus is real! Not the seasonal worker down at the mall mind you, but rather St. Nicholas who gives us the origins of Santa Claus and who (ironically enough) bears little if any resemblance of the caricature that we see today in shopping centers and on television Christmas specials.
St. Nicholas, a devout follower of Christ, was the Church Bishop of Myra in the 4th Century. He was a true churchman who sought not to be a ‘dynamic leader’ but rather a humble servant who spent most of his time not out in front leading with his ego but rather up close and among the people he served in order to know their struggles.
Through history, much legend has surrounded the life of St. Nicholas. For instance, due to the many miracles that have been attributed to the good bishop, he is known as ‘Nicholas the Wonderworker.’ But where he really is remembered is in his radically generous spirit. He would quietly give gifts to those in need without recognition for himself.
In what is probably the most famous example, legend has it that a poor father could not afford a proper dowry for his three daughters. Consequently they would remain unmarried and without opportunity to make money, they would have to most likely turn to the sex slave industry and work as prostitutes.
Bishop Nicholas could not bear such a tragedy and worked to right the injustice. In the middle of the night (his modesty would not allow him to carry out this radical generosity for all to see) Nicholas went to the father’s house and threw three purses of gold through an open window. A gift for each of the three daughters.
Today, December 6th is traditionally known as Saint Nicholas Day. In many European countries a festival for children is held with the highlight being the giving of gifts. The American “Santa Claus,” derives from the legends surrounding St. Nick.
Other little known facts about St. Nicholas…
- Born into a wealthy family but was orphaned as a teen by a plague.
- Sold most of his inheritance and used the proceeds to ease the plight of the sick and needy of Myra.
- Named Bishop of Myra following a rescue mission where he saved a sailor who was lost at sea (also considered the patron saint of sailors and merchants).
- At the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.) during a heated debate, Nicholas, indignant with one man’s heresy, punched the man in the face, but lost his title of Bishop in the process.
- The Greek name for St. Nicholas is Agios Nikolaos which means “victory of the people” or “the people’s champion.” The real St. Nicholas lived up to his name every day of his life.
This Christmas, let’s agree not to fret about Santa Claus. Instead when you pass by the silly fat man in the bright red costume at the mall promise to tell them the real story of St. Nicholas and how his belief in Christ made him one of the giants in Church History.
Perhaps the best portrayal we have of Saint Nicholas today is found in C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Although, in the book (and later film), he’s not known as St. Nicholas nor Santa Claus but rather Father Christmas. Enjoy…