I first got acquainted with Santa as a child, singing “Jingle Bells” in school, addressing Christmas wish-lists to “Mr Claus”, watching The Santa Claus movie. I associated Santa with milk and cookies and presents for good behaviour.
But what if I told you there was much more to Santa than that? What if I told you the Santa we know today is far removed from the original little Saint Nick, who was born around the year 280 AD.
Saint Nicholas, the guy we today call Santa was born in Lycia to wealthy parents, who both died when he was young. He was a charitable person who used his inherited wealth for good, and was a passionate Christian who became a priest at an early age, and later became Bishop of Myra. He had numerous miracles attributed to him during his life, some of which possibly are merely myths but nevertheless show he had a strong love for children.
One story that makes a lot of sense when you think about the Santa we know today tells of how he heard of a man with three daughters who was extremely poor. The daughters faced a life of prostitution as a result of their family’s poverty. When Nicholas heard of their plight he dropped a bag of coal down the chimney for each girl so that they could afford the dowry for marriage. In some versions of the story the gold landed in a sock that was hanging to dry by the fireplace…
Another story that doesn’t feature in the Coca-Cola version Santa we know today is how Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea (the big church meeting in AD 325 which formally agreed on church doctrines such as the divinity of Christ and where they wrote the Nicene Creed which is still used in many churches today). At that meeting there was one bishop, Arius, who was advocating a false doctrine that Jesus was created by the Father and hadn’t always been. Nicholas is said to have walked over to him and slapped him in the face, which caused a considerable amount of shock amongst the other delegates at the Council until a vision of Jesus and Mary appeared to defend him, which changed the minds of the delegates who had supported Arius’ theological position.
This is the Santa that until recently, I never knew. The Saint who is against sex-trafficking and slaps heretics. The Saint who donates his wealth to the poor and is prepared to fight for correct doctrine. That is the Santa you won’t see on a Christmas card, but that is the Santa you should be telling others about this Christmas. As Christians we don’t need to reject Santa, but we need to celebrate him for the right reasons – not because he brings us all the toys we want but because he is against prostitution and for sound doctrine. Let’s aspire to copy those elements of Santa’s back-story ourselves this year.
[image source: http://us.cdn2.123rf.com/168nwm/digital/digital1110/digital111000074/11020836-toon-santa-claus.jpg ]