I’m not a fan of the commercialisation of Christmas. I try to remind fellow believers that Jesus is the reason for the season. There was a time I wanted nothing to do with many of the trappings of Christmas. I didn’t have stockings, I didn’t have a tree and I certainly didn’t have Santa Claus.
But then children…
That is until I had children and my children started attending preschool and their friends would tell them about Santa Claus. Santa would also pop up on the kid’s television shows and there’d be pictures of Santa in all the shops. Santa was everywhere and my girls were asking me about him. How should I respond?
Christians have three options when dealing with anything in our culture. We can receive it, we can reject it or we can redeem it. Receiving Santa would mean I embrace what modern Santa is about and give my children presents from Santa. I wasn’t comfortable receiving Santa in this way. Rejecting Santa would mean I switch off the TV shows that include Santa, I tell my kids we don’t believe in Santa and try as hard as possible to have nothing to do with Santa. I found this approach tempting but impossible to implement. There’s no way I’d be able to shield my children from hearing about Santa Claus unless I home schooled them, never let them watch TV and never let them visit the shops. Santa was too big to hide from my children. My kids would probably like the idea of someone who brings presents at Christmas and would wonder why Dad is such a killjoy.
The third approach and the one I adopted was to redeem Santa Claus. I don’t embrace everything about the modern Santa Claus but I do embrace the Christian heritage from which Santa stems.
A visit from Saint Nicholas
In 1823 Clement Clarke Moore wrote a poem called: A Visit from St. Nicholas. The opening words of the poem are:
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.
The poem has many features that would remind people of our modern-day Santa Claus; Santa has reindeer and comes down the chimney but throughout the poem is exclusively referred to as St. Nicholas. Who is this Saint that became Santa?
Santa was a priest
Saint Nicholas of Myra was born in Patara, an area that is part of modern-day Turkey in 270 AD. Nicholas’ parents both died while Nicholas was still young and Nicholas was raised by his uncle who was a priest. Nicholas too would become a priest and become the Bishop of Myra. Nicholas is said to have been present at the council of Nicaea where the Nicene Creed was adopted in 325 AD.
Nicholas’ parents were said to be wealthy and Nicholas obeying the words of Christ to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” used his parents inheritance to help the sick and the poor. Nicholas became famous for his generous gift giving.
Nicholas to the rescue
It’s hard separating fact from fiction when it comes to many of the stories concerning Nicholas. One often told story is that of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a Father would need to offer prospective husbands a dowry. Without a dowry a woman was unlikely to marry and would be destined for a life of slavery. Nicholas is said to have secretly visited the house at night on three occasions, each time throwing a bag of gold through the window (There were no chimneys to climb down in the fourth century). Nicholas’ reputation for gift giving eventually became known and stories about him were told long after his death. It was common for children to leave shoes or hang stockings eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Many countries continue to celebrate Saint Nicholas day each year.
Where did Santa come from?
It’s said that Dutch immigrants brought the stories of Nicholas to America in the 1700s. In Dutch Saint Nicholas is translated: Sinterklaas which is the primary source for the modern-day American Santa Claus.
Who would of thought?
Why was I so busy rejecting Santa Claus when his story is primarily about a Christian priest who was generous to the poor? When my kids ask about Santa I tell them the story of Saint Nicholas how he loved Jesus and was kind to those who needed help. You don’t have to hide away from Santa this Christmas, instead let’s tell the story of Nicholas; the saint who became Santa. Not everyone believes in Santa but even Santa believed in Jesus.
Travis Barnes lives in central Victoria with his wife and two daughters. He is a contributor for Christian Today and a sportswriter.