Dears Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
As I prepare this article for our newsletter there are 45 days until Christmas. By the time you are reading this, there will be about 35 days or so left until Christmas. So I thought it would be fun to ponder a little bit about one of the characters of Christmas—Santa Claus. Now I can imagine you thinking, “What?? Why talk about the secular face of Christmas? Santa doesn’t have anything to do with the birth of our Savior!” But I believe he does. I believe that talking about Santa can be a wonderful way of showing people the “true meaning of Christmas.”
The tradition of Santa Claus expands upon the real-life charity and giving of one St. Nicholas (c. 275-342 A.D.) Nicholas served as bishop at Myra, a city in what is now the country of Turkey. He is remembered for being generous and selfless. He was left as a wealthy orphan at a young age and used his inheritance to help people in need.
A story is told about Nicholas that says in the town of Myra, a very poor man had three daughters of marriageable age. They had no dowry money for any young man who might want to marry them. The girls figured that they would have to spend their lives as lonely spinsters. One night a bag of gold was thrown into the room where the sisters slept. The oldest daughter used it for her dowry and married well. Son, another nighttime bag of gold came through the girls’ window, and the middle daughter also married prosperously. When a third bag of gold was thrown through the window for the last daughter, the father discovered it was Nicholas providing the dowry money. He was overwhelmed by the kindness of the generous bishop.
The name of Saint Nicholas eventually became associated with giving special gifts. The Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam (New York) remembered the bishop as Sinter Klaas. So to America came Santa Claus, the kind bringer of gifts.
One other important note about Nicholas is that he was also very dedicated to doctrine. He spoke on behalf of orthodox Christian teachings. He was imprisoned during a time of persecution but continued to witness boldly to his faith in Jesus. Every account of Nicholas describes a likeable and benevolent man who found life’s riches in Jesus, the Savior from son. He used his wealth and all of his life as an offering of thanks to God.[i]
So other than talking about St. Nicholas, how can Santa be a help in sharing the Christ of Christmas? The Santa I knew growing up (and still believe in) is the Santa Claus who is a Christian man who, like Nicholas, wants people to know Jesus Christ. Each year when I wrote my letter to Santa, I would get a response. He would tell me how things were going at the magical North Pole, what the reindeer were up to, how the elves were managing, and so on.
But there was never a letter from Santa that didn’t remind me and my brother why he was coming to visit my house on Christmas Eve to give gifts. Santa’s gifts were meant to remind me of God’s gift of His only Son to be born, to suffer, to die, and to rise again so that I would have the even better gifts of forgiveness and eternal life.
The gifts Santa brings are simple reflections of God’s love to the world in THE gift of Jesus. So when we open those presents under the tree, we are opening gifts of love just like Mary “opened” the swaddling clothes wrapped around the baby Jesus for the shepherds to see God’s Christmas present to all humanity. That’s a message that we can certainly share with others.
To conclude, one of my most favorite images of Santa is the one to the right. The Santa I know and love worships the Christ Child. He lives his life in response to the gift of the Savior, the gift of forgiveness and new life given him in Christ. In all your celebrations for this Holy Day, remember to take time to kneel before Him who is the Prince of Peace, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords—Jesus your Savior and Friends.
Christmas Joy, Peace, and Blessings,
[i] Gregory Wismar, Saints and Angels All Around. St. Louis: Concordia, © 1996.