Ever since Coca-Cola decided to promote Santa Claus as part of their soft drink campaign, Santa or St. Nicholas became a household name in North America. Santa is from the Dutch word for Saint. Claus is again a Dutch contraction for Nicholas.
Do you remember back when John Lennon said that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus Christ? Do you remember the controversy? John, of course, was right. The Beatles were for a while more popular and more central for millions. So too is Santa Claus bigger than the baby Jesus at Christmas. As a young boy, St. Nicholas for me was the heart of Christmas. The fact that my mother insisted on dragging me to church on Christmas seemed to me like a horrible religious intrusion into an otherwise good holiday.
When I was 5 years old, though, I became suspicious when Santa kept appearing at all the different shopping centres. I calculated that no reindeer could fly that fast and be in so many places at once. Once I shared my conclusions with my five year old friends, I was amazed that some of my friends’ mothers were not as excited about my “findings” as I was!
Many years later I was surprised to discover that “yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus” History tells us that there was a real, live Santa Claus or St. Nicholas in the country of Turkey during the early 4th Century. St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra. He was a very faithful Christian who endured terrible suffering and imprisonment during the great persecution by the Roman Emperor Diocletian in 303 A.D.
During this time, many church buildings were destroyed, bibles were burnt, and priests were murdered. As a result of his faithful suffering, Nicholas ended up being made Saint, the Patron Saint of sailors, Russia, and children. His symbol became 3 bags of gold, the dowry he was supposed to have given to three girls to save them from embarrassment. That, of course, is the origin of Santa bringing presents at Christmas.
The musician Randy Stonehill wrote in a Christmas song that “I know that if St. Nicholas was here, he would agree that Jesus gave the greatest gift of all to you and me” It is quite clear that the real Santa Claus (Nicholas) loved Jesus very much, and was willing to suffer for his faith. I believe that if Santa Claus were here today, he would say “Don’t just leave Jesus in the Manger. Make room for Him in your heart, not only at Christmas, but all year round”
This Christmas may we all remember the words of that famous carol Oh Little Town of Bethlehem. “O Holy Child of Bethlehem descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today..”
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
-previously published in the North Shore News
-award-winning author of Battle for the Soul of Canada
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