Bible Centered, Gospel Focused, Liturgical and Sacramental Worship in Loveland, Colorado

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake (2 Cor. 4:5).

The Quest for the Historical Santa Claus

The popularity of a figure like Santa Claus among Christians is pretty staggering. A system in which so-called “good behavior” is rewarded by material goods is about as far from the Gospel of Jesus Christ as you can get. Teaching children about an omnipotent figure who keeps a naughty and nice list, can bend the laws of physics, and who is ultimately not real, seems to me like a risky proposition when it is connected with the great feast day of the Incarnation. What else may not be real about that great day? Is Jesus like Santa? Will he hang over my head like a threat when I am naughty? Will he withhold gifts if I am bad? Is he real? “Santa Claus knows we’re all God’s children,” the song goes. Except that Baptism is what makes us God’s children. Perhaps I am overthinking this, overthinking is kind of part of my job. The traditions surrounding Santa Claus do have a firm Christian foundation, and one which I would like to take an opportunity to briefly summarize in preparation for the Christmas season, and our own recognition of St. Nicholas’ feast day.

St. Nicholas was a real, historical figure from the 4th century. As Bishop of Myra, in modern-day Turkey, Nicholas suffered greatly during the Diocletian persecution, but also experienced the benefits of the conversion of Constantine when Christianity was legalized. Chief among these benefits was the opportunity for all of Christianity’s Bishops to gather for the council of Nicea in 325, where the first part of the Nicene Creed (the Nicene Creed in the form we know it was not completed until 381) was formulated. There is an apocryphal story about St. Nicholas punching the heretic Arius at the council of Nicea (Arius was a British Priest who championed the popular heresy of Arianism), which has gained far too much traction in a particularly aggressive, uber-masculine style of Christianity found in too many churches. We do not know that this really happened, but we can be sure Nicholas would have been chastised and not praised for such behavior so unbecoming of a Bishop.

What we do know for certain is that St. Nicholas shared our Lord’s great concern for the well-being of children. Through orphanages, the purchase by his churches of children who were being sold into slavery, and a protective spirit over vulnerable little ones, St. Nicholas became a great example of what it meant to live sacrificially for the least of these. Following his death on December 6th, 343, a number of traditions started throughout the Christian world that has transformed into the great feast day of the material-industrial complex that we know and love today.

Christians need not and should not buy into the contemporary Santa Claus; that material-industrial taskmaster who looms over the heads of children like a threat throughout the year. St. Nicholas was, at his best, as God. He was a gift-giver. Like God, he did not give gifts to deserving people, but to needy people, especially children. When we mark the feast day of St. Nicholas, remember that God is a gift-giver who gives gifts to undeserving people, who loves children, and that his greatest gift to his children is Jesus Christ.

Fr. Matt

1 Comment(s). Leave new

  1. Harry Taylor December 2, 2021

    Thank you Fr. Matt for changing the focus of Santa Clause from the materialistic receiving of gifts to the giving of care and support to the needy!! We need that change of direction now.

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