📷:Jaroslav Čermák (1831-1878), “St. Nicholas” (photo: Public Domain)
The “Modern” Santa Claus
Did you see the one about a 4-year-old boy telling Santa he wants a Nerf gun for Christmas? Santa’s response was an immediate, “No, no guns!” The boy made plain he had asked for a Nerf gun, you know, the toy gun that shoots out Styrofoam. Santa responds with, “Nope, not even a Nerf gun.” The Mall-Santa-Who-Stole-Christmas threw the kid a bone and suggested this boys’ Dad get him a Nerf gun, but pushed that Santa could/would NOT.
Call me crazy, but Santa isn’t paid to be politically correct or to drive an anti-gun agenda on children as he dissuades them from asking for their favorite toy for Christmas. He’s paid to nod yes and smile for pictures. Am I right?
While Santa Claus + political agendas + individual liberties + parental rights make for a tempting topic, that idea will have to wait.
Who is St. Nicholas really?
However, let’s think more about Santa Claus. Let’s think first about St. Nicholas, the man who inspired the great “Papa Noel,” “Babadimri,” and “Dyado Koleda.”
There are many tales of St. Nicholas that combine to create the portrait of a heartening fellow. There’s one about a poor man’s daughters and how mysteriously bags of gold appeared in their home providing needed dowries to protect them from prostitution. There’s one about a pirate who kidnapped and enslaved a young boy who was then rescued a year later by Nicholas and returned to his grieving parents holding his captures golden cup. Another tells of a murderous innkeeper who hid his victims in pickling tubs. It is said that Nicholas found some of these pickled people, appealed to God through prayer, and these bodies were restored to life! Nicholas’s prayers have also been said to have calmed stormy seas and saved people from famine. These stories inform us how it is that St. Nicholas has become known as gift giver, protectorate, and savior.
While some of the tales about St. Nicholas are tall, it is true that he was a man after God’s own heart, passionate and compassionate, zealous for truth and mercy. He was a devout Christian who sold everything he had and gave his money to the poor. He dedicated his life to God and caring for the sick and needy. He even suffered exile and imprisonment for his faith.
So I have to wonder then what St. Nicholas would think of his alter-ego that has become so prominent in today’s Christmas culture? St. Nicholas’ passion and zeal for truth after all compelled him to slap Arius the heretic across the face at the Council of Nicaea. Might he then be compelled, maybe less so for the sake of sailors but at least for the children’s sake, to knock some upside the head and trumpet, “For the love of Baby Jesus, pay attention, there is but one worthy omniscient, omnipresent, giver of good gifts, most famous ‘old man in the sky’ figure!”
What Would Santa think?
Troubled by the obvious contradictions between himself and this Santa character, St. Nicholas may think, “Who is this idol who belongs only to children? I am a model for all of life. I did not come to boost Christmas sales, but to deliver peace, goodwill and God’s hope. It’s not about consumption; it’s about compassion! This Santa appears only for a short time, I am part of the communion of saints who surround you always with prayer and example. I did not fly through the air, but walked on the earth. I did not exist to replace the Babe of Bethlehem, but to point to the Babe of Bethlehem!”
Maybe he would go on to proclaim, “No, I want the children to be affected with great surprise and wonder by the truth that they can delight in all their lives. Not a story that loses it’s magic at the age of eight or so. The real reason for the season, the real joy to be shared at Christmas, is not a fairy tale, nor is it bound to a single month on the calendar. The reason we celebrate Christmas is actual and everlasting. It’s not put away until the following year or exposed and discredited when a child comes of age. There should be no false benefactor with whom Jesus will have to compete. The tone should not be: Be good and you will get more stuff. Christmas should be obsessed with a baby in a manger, and no other!”
(Can you hear the passion in this “Santa’s” tone? It’s why (s)he’s noted before that deprivation for a child would be to allow the Living Savior to be overshadowed by a jolly twinkly flying character, or depending on your perspective, an obese toy maker who enslaves elves to work day and night, all year long, without any breaks, for high-fructose corn syrup in the form of confections and candies! A man who sends an elf to encourage superficial behavior modification in exchange for short-term earthly treasures discarded or forgotten about or unaffectionately acknowledged before the next years list is born.)
Get rid of Santa?
I just do not believe that discluding Santa Clause in our Christmas celebration we are depriving children of the joy of the season. (For boys and girls with visions of Nerf guns in their heads, perhaps we would be preserving some of that joy?) Rather, we are redirecting that joy and giving Christmas back to the true omniscient, omnipresent, giver of good gifts, for the benefit of all. I think St. Nicholas would cheer, “May their hearts know this joy each and everyday!”
There’s a great advantage for literal-thinking and uncritical young minds to not have to pick through a marble cake of part truth and part imaginative story to find the crumbs of reality surrounding the meaning of Christmas. The truth is Christmas gifts do not come from a bottomless sack but from the people they love, who know the worst of their behavior throughout the year and still show love and generosity in return. The truth is despite our unworthiness, our loving Father sent his son to be born as a baby to live a life in this world, be put to death by this world, so that when we leave this world, we can spend an eternity in heaven where we will have everything our hearts desire.
So here are some NEW ideas for remembering St. Nicholas’ love of Jesus (sans Santa Claus):
1) Fill a golden cup with chocolate coins and place it by your fireplace or Christmas tree for the kids to enjoy. It's a great time to retell the story of St. Nicholas and how he was inspired by his faith.
2) Host a lunch or dinner for friends or neighbors and tell your favorite stories of St. Nicholas while feasting. It's a great way to extend hospitality, show generosity, and everyone gets to remember the life and muse of a great man.
3) Make up "Blessing Bags" for the homeless and needy. Use large Ziploc bags and put in helpful items (a bottle of water, granola bar, toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, gift cards if you like). These can be packed on St. Nicholas day, December the 6th, then kept handy for when you see folks in need, at a stop light, exit, sidewalk, etc. Don’t forget to include a small card that reads, “Jesus loves you!”
Lots of other ways, for all ages, to enjoy the love, joy, and peace that is advent and the Christmas season. Merry Christmas!