The outfit is unmistakable, the mode of transportation totally unique, and the occupation…. well that is an area were opinions differ widely. For some Santa Claus is the heart of the holiday season, for others he is a welcome diversion from the mundane of everyday life, and for others he is an unwelcome distraction from the real reason to celebrate this time of year.
My childhood home was a place where the story of the jolly bearded gift giver was readily told. Some of my most vivid childhood memories surround the story of Santa. I will never forget looking out the window hoping to catch a glimpse of Saint Nick and his sleigh only to find a teen-aged neighbor looking in the window… yikes! I can still see the room full of bicycles when “Santa” brought 8 bikes to our home, one for each of the children still living at home. It seems only yesterday when I discovered the truth regarding the reality of Santa Claus and forever changed the way I looked at this childhood hero.
I have sung the carols, watched the Christmas television specials, and once wore the red hat as volunteer bell ringer for the Salvation Army. All the while I gave very little thought to the fact and fiction surrounding Santa. There seemed to be no reason to debate the validity or value of the Santa story. Parenthood finally forced me to consider my views on Saint Nick. With the traditions of Santa Claus deeply woven into the culture of society and family, it was imperative I have an answer for my children that would reflect our values and stand the test of time. What did I tell my children? First some facts :)
THE FACTS – The story of Santa Claus finds its roots in the 4th century AD in the life of Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna (modern day Turkey). Nicholas is believed to have been from a very wealthy family whose Godly parents died during an epidemic while he was quite young. Nicholas firmly embraced the faith of his parents, stayed committed to the church and eventually entered the priesthood. Nicholas showed his devotion to God in extraordinary kindness and generosity to those in need. Nicholas gave much of his family’s wealth away, with a special interest in the needs of children. Among the stories attributed to Nicholas is of him anonymously providing the dowries for a poor man with three daughters, saving them from the likelihood of slavery. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. Upon his release he attended the Council of Nicea in 325, and eventually made his way back to Myra. He faithfully served God his entire life, demonstrating true humility, steadfastness of faith, and a compassionate heart.
Nicholas died in 343 AD on December 6. His life would soon after be commemorated with the “Feast of Nicholas” held each December 6th. Over time numerous traditions became associated with these annual celebrations. On St. Nicholas' Eve, youngsters would set out food for the saint, straw for his horses and schnapps for his attendant. The next morning, obedient children awoke to find their gifts replaced with sweets and toys. With the Reformation the “Feast of Nicholas” and “Eve of Nicholas” all but disappeared from the calendar. Oddly, The Puritans contributed greatly to the secularization of Christmas, being strongly opposed to any Christmas celebration. As time passed the traditions of Christmas and the “Feast of Nicholas” morphed into our Christmas celebrations
There are certainly many other influences that have over time shaped and distorted the story of Saint Nicholas and brought us to our modern day Santa Claus. However, we would do well to tell the story of Santa’s origin and the Godly heart and determination of Santa’s namesake.
THE FIGHT - Santa has been blamed for the secularization of Christmas, and yet no historical figure other than Jesus has done more to bring attention to the celebration of Christ’s birth. Santa is often mistakenly attributed with the commercialization of Christmas gift-giving, yet even those who have no belief or tradition of Santa readily admit that the are prone to unhealthy excess in the Holiday season. Some have gone so far as to associate Santa with the satanic, yet the values demonstrated in Santa find no connection with Hell’s inhabitants. The true fight is not with Santa, it is with the distortions that have permeated the story over the years.
THE FRUIT - The challenge of looking beyond the trivial to the truth is as old as the story of Christmas itself, as King Herod could readily testify. I am convinced Charlie Brown’s best friend, Linus put it best when answering Chuck’s question of the true meaning of Christmas: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.’ “That’s the true meaning of Christmas Charlie Brown.”
THE FINAL WORD - I am convinced Jesus response to the question of His opinion regarding Santa Claus would be the same as Santa’s response regarding the question of his opinion of Jesus: “It is too bad that people don’t take the time to truly know him… because understanding who he really is has the potential to be life changing!”
By the way, Jodi and I explained to our children that imagination is a gift from God and the imaginary character of Santa Claus reminds us of a man who lived a long time ago whose devotion to God is worth remembering….. and modeling!