It’s always funny coming around to this time of the year, as it’s always a great thing to look forward to family, friends, good food, and most importantly, celebrating and remembering the birth of Christ. But with it comes lots of funny moments. One thing I see so often every Christmas, especially in the church, is an oft disdain for poor ol’ Saint Nick as if people hold him responsible for single-handedly ruining the meaning of Christmas. This is nothing new, as a matter of fact a predominantly Christian distaste for Santa goes back as far as even the 16th Century.
But it’s funny to me how even today we easily ignore how much we ourselves put so much stock in buying gifts and holiday sales and family drama and arguing over where we spend Christmas and making sure we utilize our Christmas vacation time and making sure we get our Christmas bonus. But no, it’s definitely none of those things that have taken the focus of Christmas away from Christ; no, it’s Satan Claus…it’s all his fault!
But I want to tell you why I don’t hate Santa…and actually why I like him. Granted, in my house, my sons are 8 and 5 1/2 years old, and we don’t do the whole “Santa comes down the chimney on Christmas” thing. For that matter we don’t even pretend that he is a real, living guy up at the North Pole. Even when I first wrote this article in 2008 when Micah was 5, he only knew him as “the Christmas Guy.” He didn’t even know his name. But I do actually like the idea of Santa being a part of our Christmas tradition in some way.
A History of Santa
See, Santa Claus was a slow morph from, of course, Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was from a place called Myra, which is modern day Turkey. He lived in the 4th century, practically a contemporary to Saint Patrick of Ireland. Nicholas, from an early age, became obsessed with his faith in Christ, and he lived it out to the most extreme degree. Through the years, sure his legend changed and was modified for every culture, and eventually somewhere in Scandinavian Europe, his name was translated and eventually was anglicized into “Santa Claus,” the name “Santa” of course being “Saint” and “Claus” being a variant of “Nicholas” (you can see the relation of the name “Claus” in the latter part of the name “Nicholas” in the form of “cholas”).
The tradition of Santa being a gift-giver comes from the real life Nicholas. He was literally a “Secret Santa” as he would often put coins and gifts in people’s shoes which were left on their doorstep at night. He would leave food on doorsteps of families that had need. And in his most notable act, he bought the dowry (a large “down-payment” for marriage so to speak given to the father of a young girl from an interested man as a guarantee of marriage) of three young girls so that they wouldn’t have to be pushed into a life of prostitution.Nicholas did this all out of his passion for Christ and the great gift of salvation that Nicholas so appreciated. Sadly, though he died peacefully at age 76, his legacy itself became a martyr as we’ve put to death the great testimony of his faith as we often now use him as a scapegoat for the secularization of Christmas. I know that December 25th isn’t Jesus’ real birthday. I know that His birthday has nothing to do with sleigh bells or gingerbread men or candy canes or wintery wonderlands. But I do live in 21st Century America, and Santa, to be honest, is actually one of the few true remaining relics of the real Christmas Story. Would Saint Nicholas be bummed that he’s been so marginalized as a non-faith based figure at Christmastime and minimized and pigeonholed as a gluttonous home invader who holes himself up in a barren wasteland 364 days per year? I’m sure he would be.
But, boy, I gotta be honest, if it were me and I was given the unbelievable privilege to have my testimony of charity for the cause of Christ be told throughout the world for centuries to come, sure I would be bummed to know that it gets secularized and turned into a marketing ploy; however more than that, I would be devastated to know that my future fellow believers in Christ would be the front runners in voiding the many deeds I did in the name of Christ for the sake of the poor and needy in my community. I would be so saddened to know that my name and legacy would become vilified in the eyes of believers. My hope would be that my future fellow believers would protect my legacy and bring Christ back to the center of my story. Imagine, if you will, the name “Billy Graham” leaving a bad taste in the mouth of Christians in 500 years. What a travesty if those believers allow that to happen and throw the baby out with the bathwater because culture begins to use the Billy’s name to sell some more products and then make it as if Billy is the worst thing to happen to Christianity. It really just doesn’t make any sense.
Instead of stringing good ol’ Saint Nick up the flagpole, I rather like to appreciate what he did in his life to honor Christ. Imagine if instead of condemning Santa to our kids, we actually taught them what he really represented, and used his example to teach our kids at Christmas time. Imagine if we actually took heed to Saint Nick’s heart as he had a desire as Paul did for us to “follow me as I follow Christ.” Imagine the great conversations our kids would have at their schools when the Santa topic gets brought up. Our kids would be telling other kids not even just what Christmas is all about, but even what SANTA is all about, that he was a man who loved Jesus and showed it by blessing others!