Over the past few years I’ve discovered a few of these rules on my own… the hard way. One of them is politics, another, I’m told, is religion (I seem to mess up on the religion one frequently), and then there is parenting. If you want to see hackles raise in a hurry, start dishing out advise about how to ‘best’ discipline and raise children. The point of this intro? I want to make it clear that in this three-part letter series I’m not trying to tell you how to parent your children. It’s just that when my oldest son Nathan asked Esther and I point blank the other night “Is Santa Claus real?”, it made me wonder how many other Christian parents have found themselves pausing in their responses. Do you know what you would say? If so, humor me as the young parent tackling these issues for the first time. But if not, perhaps a little review on the origins of Santa Claus would help. Next week I’ll look at the flip side of the coin, and in the 3rd part of this Christmas series I’ll cover the origins of several other misc. Christmas traditions. But I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s start with Santa Claus.
My mom used to tell us about an uncle that would occasionally visit their family during the holidays and suck the living joy out of their Christmas fun. How? Two words: “Satan Claus.” “Don’t you know,” he would say, “that all you have to do is move one letter and 'Santa' becomes 'Satan?' Satan Claus.
Look, I dislike the bloated commercialism of Christmas as much as the next guy, but I’m sorry, that’s just extreme -- that’s downright “Grinchy.” As Bill (and probably Jesus) would lovingly admonish, “unclench!” I do, however, understand the frustration many Christians feel about the sly coup d’etat that’s taken place over the centuries to displace Jesus as the central Christ-mass theme. The image that comes to mind is the scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” where Indiana Jones deftly exchanges the artifact of gold for a bag of worthless sand in the opening scene. Incidentally, the result of that movie switcheroo is a pretty good parallel to what has happened in reality – the pillars that hold up the meaning and purpose and wonder of Christmas have collapsed around us, to the point that even at this most magical of seasons, for many in America, “nothing tastes”—nothing is truly meaningful.
But is Santa really to blame? I don’t think so. “Guns don’t kill people” the saying goes – “People kill people.” In the same way, Santa hasn’t replaced Jesus; people have replaced Jesus with Santa. And honestly, I don’t think Santa is going away. So instead of sticking our heads in the sand and hoping the world will leave us alone, instead of telling our kids that Santa is evil and an abomination and probably the Antichrist too – maybe we can tell our kids about the real, historical, God-fearing man behind the mythology of Santa. Maybe we can tell our kids about “St. Nick.”
WHO WAS ST. NICK?
“The true story of Santa Claus begins with 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 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 Nicea in AD 325 (where we get “The Nicene Creed”). He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church.” -- www.stnicholascenter.org
After the Reformation, celebration of Nicholas as a ‘saint’ “died out in all the Protestant countries of Europe except Holland, where he was known as Sinterklaas. Dutch colonists brought the tradition to New Amsterdam (now New York City), and English-speaking Americans adopted him as Santa Claus, who is believed to live at the North Pole and to bring gifts to children at Christmas.” -- www.biography.com
Should we allow Santa or “St. Nick” to displace Jesus in our Christian families? No; Jesus needs to be at the center of it all. But when little ones turn conversations to Santa, maybe it’s okay to tell them about his namesake, a man who loved Jesus, lived like Jesus, suffered for Jesus, and was part of a body of Christians that protected some of the most foundational doctrines of our faith through a creed that still speaks for us today.