In the 4th century (300’s AD), a man named Nicholas, wanted to serve God with his whole heart. His family was wealthy, but he didn’t want to live like a rich man. He wanted to help poor people, and help people come to know Jesus Christ. Nicholas was born in a Greek town called Pantara. When he grew up, he became a pastor in a Myra. The area where he lived is now known as the country of Turkey. Nicholas love to worship Jesus. He spent his entire life helping the people in his church come to an understanding of why Jesus came to earth.
One story of his generosity and caring for people helps us to understand what kind of person he was. There was a family in his village with three daughters. They were very happy, and welcomed Nicholas, their pastor, into their home on a regular basis. The father was a nobleman, and many times sought Nicholas’ advice for decisions he needed to make. One day, the nobleman’s wife became sick and died. The man and his daughters were hard hit with grief. In fact, the nobleman stopped asking Nicholas for advice, and began making impulsive and selfish decisions. Soon, all his money was gone. As the years went by, he lost his large mansion. He and his daughters had to work in the fields to find food, and their home became a small cottage.
Now, in that day, young women could only marry if their parents could supply a dowry for them. A dowry was a sum of money that would help a newly married couple not have to work so hard to make ends meet, and be able to get to know each other during the first year. Well, the nobleman no longer had any money; and no dowries for any of his three girls. One night, Pastor Nicholas was invited for dinner. He spoke to the father, and offered to supply dowries for each of his daughters, out of his own pocket.
“No,” replied the father stubbornly.
“God will take care of us.” Nicholas noticed during dinner, that the girls had apparently done their laundry that day. Stockings had been hung by the fire to dry. That night, the young pastor climbed up on the roof of the house, and dropped three small bags of gold down the chimney. As the story goes, God directed the money – one bag into each girl’s stocking. In the morning, the girls were surprised and overjoyed. God had truly taken care of them!
As news spread of Nicholas’ generosity, everyone in the village began hanging their stockings by the fireplace at night, hoping Nicholas would drop a gift down the chimney!
Nicholas died in 340AD. His body was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors purportedly stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout Europe. His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to claims he that he could perform miracles and devotion to him increased. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia, where he was known by his red cape, flowing white beard, and bishop’s mitre. Thousands of churches across Europe were dedicated to him and sometime around the 12th century an official church holiday was created in his honor. The Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated December 6 and the day was marked by gift-giving and charity. After the Reformation, European followers of St. Nicholas dwindled, but the stories were kept alive in Holland where the Dutch spelling of his name Sint Nikolaas was eventually transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes. Dutch colonists brought brought this tradition with them to America in the 17th century and here the Anglican name of Santa Claus emerged.
In 1822 Clement C. Moore composed the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published as The Night Before Christmas as a gift for his children. In it, he portrays Santa Claus:
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly,
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
Other countries feature different gift-bearers for the Christmas or Advent season: La Befana in Italy ~ The Three Kings in Spain, Puerto Rico, and Mexico ~ Christkindl or the Christ Child in Switzerland and Austria ~ Father Christmas in England ~ and Pere Noël, Father Christmas or the Christ Child in France. Still, the figure of Santa Claus as a jolly, benevolent, plump man in a red suit described in Moore’s poem remains with us today and is recognized by children and adults alike around the world.
In our home, we have a small cross-stitched picture we hang in the entryway at this time each year. It is a picture of Santa Claus, hat in hand, at his knees at the side of the Christ-Child in the manger. How simple it would be to resolve the debate over the Santa Claus symbol, if we all would just consider that picture in our celebrations…… For example, have you ever stopped to consider that in depicting Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, we have actually reproduced an emblem of the True and Living God? He rides the wind in his chariot (Psalm 104:3); He never sleeps, but keeps watch over us (Psalm 121:3-4); He rewards the obedient (good) and disregards the disobedient (Deuteronomy 28); He gives gifts from above and shows no partiality (James 1:17); He tells us to ask Him for what we need (James 4:2); He will come in the “middle of the night” (I Thess. 5:2); He keeps His promises (II Peter 3:9).
Why would we censure people from seeking this figure this time of year? Why not enlarge who he really represents? Especially, dressed in the symbolic colors of red and white!! Blessings!
Remember: There are many Santa Claus
figures out there this time of year.
The real Santa Claus
was/is the gift-giver who
loves and obeys Jesus first.
(c)2011 dcg/atg. Duplication without permission prohibited. Thank you for your integrity.