Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas

In today’s culture, Santa Claus is the main icon of Christmas.  Christmas today is a secular holiday whose religious origins are forgotten or ignored by many people. (Even atheist Richard Dawkins celebrates Christmas.)  So who is this Santa Claus?  Did a bunch of stores create him so that they could sell more toys?  Today’s Christmas is definitely very commercialized and the stores do make use of Santa Claus to sell their goods at this time of the year, but no, there is a lot of history and tradition behind Santa Claus. Behind the modern version of Santa Claus are the traditions of the historical figure of Saint Nicholas, the English Father Christmas, and the Dutch Sinterklaas.

Saint Nicholas of Myra was the Christian bishop of Myra (present day Demre, Turkey).  He was born on March 15, 270 and died on December 6 in 343.   Saint Nicholas was known for his generosity. The most famous Saint Nicholas story is the story where St. Nicholas for three nights dropped a small bag of gold coins each night in an open window so that the three daughters of the house would have a dowry and would not remain single and be forced to become prostitutes.  He was known to have made a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine.  He was also imprisoned during Diocletian’s persecution.  And he was likely at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, where some say he slapped (or punched) Arius, the heretic. Though he does not have any writings existing, he has been a very popular saint down through the centuries.

Saint Nicholas Day is December 6.  In some parts of the world, people wake up on the morning of December 6 to find sweets in their shoes or in their hanging socks.  Folklore has had a large part in determining who the giver of gifts is in the various parts of Europe and from Europe to the rest of the world with Santa Claus being the main figure.  The dates when the gifts are given vary from December 6 to January 6, depending on who the giver is. In America, the 1823 poem “Twas the Night before Christmas” influenced how we see the Santa Claus legend, and other 19th century authors and illustrators also influenced our view of Santa Claus.

Though not all that much is known for certain about Saint Nicholas of Myra (there is a tomb and bones that date back to the right time period), I did find one quote, only one quote, attributed to him.  And this quote fits the theme of giving.

The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.” (Saint Nicholas of Myra)

So let us give, by God’s grace through faith, remembering God who gave his Son that we might have a full life in him.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift” is from God (James 1:17).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

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