Reclaiming Saint Nicholas

I will never forget the day my parents broke the horrible news to me about Santa.  I had been watching TV and a commercial with the big man in a red suit appeared and I ran to the TV and kissed his image and exclaimed “Santa I love you!”.  It may have been the borderline idolatry and worship of this fictional character or the fact I was 16 that lead my parents to share the “truth” with me.  (Ok, I wasn’t exactly 16….).   So, they sat me down and told me the cold hard facts that put Santa on equal terms with the Easter bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Hulk Hogan. Yet I still choose to believe that Wrestle Mania was real!

I was crushed.  Certain fantasies are meant to only last so long I suppose.

Looking back what I find interesting is the “truth” about Santa Claus was more of demythologizing of him than shedding light on the actual truth of his origins.

I know many parents who do not let their kids believe in Santa (they use clever mind control tactics developed in Russia)

Others, without the budget or insanity, simply prohibited the images of jolly ole’ Saint Nick and the watching of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in their homes.  Now clearly, if you live in the U.S one would have to lock up your child inside to completely isolate them from Santa.  Besides, he knows when you are sleeping and knows when you are awake!

What many do is realize the cultural saturation of the Coca-Cola Claus propaganda, and at an early age tell their children he is simply a myth.  These kids then become more mature and sensible than their peers because they are not deceived into believing a lie.  Think about the mom in A Miracle on 34th Street and you begin to get the picture!

Now this can be done with a bit more tact and sensitivity than some parents use, and certainly more than Vince Vaughn in the following scene:

Don\’t drink the Kool-Aid from \”Fred Claus\”

Parents, please don’t get mad at me if you happen to take that approach.  To each his or her own.

However…..rather than the above mentioned approaches, here is what I propose and some close friends are doing.  (I think this can and should apply to all Christians and not just parents)

We can reclaim good ole’ St. Nick by sharing the story of the historical (and very real) Saint Nicholas.  I find it interesting that many people do not know there was a real clergy member of the Church named Nicholas, and those who do, know very little about his life and faith.

By teaching about the life journey and faith of saints like Nicholas, tribute is paid to the “cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us.  Theology, doctrine, discipleship, piety, and obedience can be on display and promoted during the season instead of just shiny little lights and Xbox games.

I personally believe that reclaiming Saint Nicholas back to the truly “Christian” aspect of Christmas can tie in the theological implications and reality of the incarnation with the cultural phenomenon that has become the holiday on December 25.

Attempting this dialogue and conversation may serve better than placing Santa at the nativity  (although I suppose I can appreciate the intent)

I am no expert of the life and teachings of Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, but I will provide a brief synopsis and helpful links for further research and study.

Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea where it is reported he helped defend the deity of Christ in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, supposedly formed in his grave.

Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas.

There are many legends and fables about his miracles and acts of service which help explain the progression towards the modern-day creation of Santa Claus.

During this Christmas season, we should keep focused on the real miracle of Christ’s incarnation.  Let us never lose sight of that.  However, if you are like me and still really do enjoy the North Pole, those cute little elves, and leaving cookies for Santa, then perhaps getting back to the actual origins of Saint Nick just might keep yourself and kids balanced a bit more than previous years.

St. Nicholas of Myra

Bishop of Myra, Defender of Orthodoxy, Wonderworker, Holy Hierarch

(Also called NICHOLAS OF BARI).

Christianity Today- The Real Saint Nicholas

Catholic Online- Saint Nicholas

stories and tales about Saint Nicholas

Blog post from The Resurgence

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3 thoughts on “Reclaiming Saint Nicholas

  1. Very interesting. I’ve been thinking lately about the inequities involved with the tradition of Santa. Consider: “Santa” does not bring as much stuff to the poor kids as he does to the rich. This is the opposite of the portrait of the real St. Nicholas that you paint above.

    • Brian
      what a great insight and alarming contrast. the more I contemplate and really delve into the issue, the more saddened I become. also the whole ideas of earning gifts and grace by good behavior seems to contrast the gospel message.

      • Dan, that is such a great point — that how we portray Santa is really sending a message of works righteousness to children. We have already conflated Santa and God too much — the description of each in secular circles might be almost identical. If we teach kids that Santa likes best those who behave, what message might this be sending to kids about God? I’m no Santa-hater, but all this does make me stop and wonder. Thanks for the post.

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