Several years ago, my son and I caught the end of a Christmas animation special on television. This was nothing like the shows that I watched growing up. When I think of animation and Christmas, I usually think of Charlie Brown and islands of misfit toys. However, this cartoon was different. Santa Claus rode a rocket sleigh propelled at dizzying speed by eight robot reindeer. Although there was no discernible plot, there were plenty of explosions and battle scenes. It’s as if the Power Rangers were given the opportunity to rewrite “A Visit from St. Nick.” We have certainly come a long way from the origins of Santa.
Long before being a pop culture icon, before being a huckster for rampant commercialism, before being “a jolly old elf,” Santa Claus was simply a boy named, Nicholas. He grew up in the third century in Patara, a small village in what is now modern Turkey. His family loved him dearly. Born and baptized into the Church, his parents raised him to be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
While still young, Nicholas’ parents died during an epidemic. They left him a small fortune. Moved by his faith, Nicholas used his entire inheritance in a ministry of compassion. In the name of Jesus Christ, he helped the needy, the sick, and the suffering. Although he tried to keep his gift-giving anonymous, people discovered Nicholas’ generosity. Thus, the legend was born.
While still young, Nicholas became a leader in the church and was made Bishop of Myra. He was considered a leader of steady convictions which drew him into conflict with Roman authorities. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned for his faith. In better times, Nicholas attended the Council at Nicaea in 325. There he and the other bishops hammered out a statement of faith accepted universally by the Church that Jesus Christ is fully human, fully divine.
Over the years, Nicholas’ story has become encrusted with fantasy, hype, and cultural baggage. Much of it is harmless fun, like stories of giants and beanstalks. In the process, however, we lost a great man of compassion, faith, and conviction. Nicholas belongs to the Church, he belongs to us, and his example is a witness to Jesus Christ. Tell Nicholas’ story. Share it with your children and grandchildren. Receive this Christmas season a visit from old St. Nick.
Grace & Peace,