Legend of Santa Claus Has Christian Heritage

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

All around the world, children are flocking to malls and shopping centers to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want for Christmas.

The truth is the real story of Santa Claus has gotten lost in the commercialization of Christmas, a testament of sorts largely to the genius retailers who wanted to be sure that moms and dads didn’t forget them at Christmas either.

The irony behind all this truth is the story of St. Nicholas offers parents a way out of the “Santa Claus controversy” because the message of Christmas – presented through the life and work of the real “St. Nick” – has most assuredly been garbled over the last hundred years or so. Father Christmas, as he once was known, was as real as they come.

Unlike the modern-day Santa Claus, the original St. Nicholas didn’t live at the North Pole with a crew of hardworking elves, a team of flying reindeer, and a wife who worked hard to keep him plump and happy. The real St. Nicholas was a different sort of fellow altogether. Born in 245 AD in what is now Asiatic Turkey, he was the only child of a wealthy family. He became an orphan at a very early age when his parents died of the plague. He ended up spending his youth at a monastery under the tutelage of his uncle, the Bishop of Patara.

By all accounts the young Nicholas was an extremely devout and holy man. He was also rich beyond measure and chose to give most of the money his father had left him to the poor. In Myra, he frequently appeared to help those in crisis and then would quietly disappear, often preferring that his contributions remain anonymous, a lasting testimony to the Christ-like quality of selflessness.

When he was 30, the Archbishop of Myra died, and Nicholas was selected to replace him. By that time, he had become well-known not only for his generosity, but also for his unwavering support of Christianity. That was no easy task during a period when the birth of new religions and the ever-present lure of paganism threatened the foundation of his Christian faith.

History records that Nicholas was persecuted by the Roman Emperor Diocletian and spent several years in prison, later to be freed by Constantine, who had also come to a saving knowledge of Christ.

Over time, Nicholas’ reputation grew. He was credited with performing many miracles, which after his death in the fourth century, led to his elevation to sainthood.

Nicholas’ legend continued to spread throughout Europe, and his followers increased over time. During the Middle Ages, thousands of churches were built in his honor. In fact, December 6th, the anniversary of his death, was designated as the Feast of St. Nicholas and became a day to give gifts, particularly to children.

During the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s, the Feast of St. Nicholas was banished from most European countries when Martin Luther derided believers for what he thought had become a practice of worshiping saints instead of God. The tradition was understandably forced underground and the celebration came to be known by a lot other names throughout Europe.

It was the Dutch who managed to keep the original message embraced by St. Nicholas’ life alive. They brought that tradition with them when they settled in what is now New York in the 1600s. Their Sinter Klaas is now our Santa Claus.

Obviously, our view of Santa Claus is no longer the view that history records. He was a God-fearing man who lived for the Lord Jesus, suffered for the Lord Jesus, and gave for the Lord Jesus. He understood what Jesus meant when he told his disciples, “the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends”.

St. Nick decided to lay his life down, too, one gift at a time. Isn’t that really what Christmas is all about?

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