A number of years ago, our elder son invited his Jewish girlfriend to share Christmas with us. She had never celebrated Christmas before and regarded it as a Christian celebration. The relationship seemed fairly serious so I thought this was a great opportunity to share who we were as Christians. But, as I started the Christmas preparations I realised that very little of what we do in our “celebration” had anything to do with Christian beliefs.
As I decked the Christmas tree in the bay window of our home, with little dogs and mice angels, baubles, lights and tinsel I was slightly embarrassed about the message I might be sending. Then I placed all the carefully wrapped and tagged presents of different shapes and sizes beneath the tree and hung the Christmas cards on a string across the front, it certainly looked festive and added to the Christmas atmosphere, but what would someone searching for the real significance of Christmas learn?
Then I moved onto preparation for Christmas Dinner. We like the traditional feast, roast dinner and all the trimmings, Christmas pudding, bonbons, candles and the carefully planned and decorated Christmas table. This is my chance to be creative; I love the build up to Christmas, the planning, anticipation and the pre-Christmas cooking. Apart from tying together some symbolism, I thought, “There is nothing about the Christmas celebration that really sets it apart as overtly Christian”. However, I concluded that there was absolutely nothing wrong with any of these things, but where’s the Christian Message???
Of course, I had left out Santa Claus.
Now here is where the real Christian message has been hidden.
The legend began with Nicholas of Myra, a Saint, wonderworker and an archbishop in southern Asia Minor in the fourth century. St. Nicholas is the basis for all the Santa Claus legends and imagery, which accompany Christmas celebrations in much of the world. While widely honoured by most Christian groups, little is known of him historically.
By tradition, Nicholas was born in the city of Patara, to well-to-do parents. Having inherited his parents’ estate, he became known for his generous gifts to those in need. The book “Life of Nicholas” published after his death increased his fame to cult status. The story of his rescue of sailors in the Aegean Sea established him as the patron Saint of mariners. His popularity in Russia rose to the point that almost all churches had some sort of shrine honoring St. Nicholas.
In time his fame in northern Europe as a saintly bishop began changing to that of a giver of gifts to children. This happened usually on the night prior to December 6, which is the anniversary of his death. As immigrants from the Germanic and Nordic lands settled in the USA the image of St. Nicholas, or “Sinterklaas,” as he is known among the Dutch, slowly changed to that of “Santa Claus” with little tie to Christianity.
But the deifying of Santa did not stop there. As the years have passed, so the legend has grown and in many ways this mere man has taken on the image of Jesus.
Let’s compare these two men:
- Santa knows and sees everything – “he knows if you’ve been naughty or nice and he knows the reward you deserve”. Jesus knows the hearts and minds of all men, and each will be rewarded for his deeds.
- Santa has the ability to travel the world in one long night. God’s eye roams to and fro throughout the earth at all times.
- He lives in a place no-one really knows. No one knows the physical location of heaven.
- He has supernatural helpers, elves. Jesus has angels.
- Children make requests to him, of gifts, healing of loved ones and restored relationships. We are encouraged to pray for our every need, God hears and answers our prayers.
- Santa is the giver of good gifts. The Bible says that every good gift comes from above from the Father.
- St Nicholas Day has moved from the 6th Dec, his death, to the 25th December, when Jesus birthday is celebrated.
- He is perceived to be all-wise and all knowing, the image we attribute to Jesus.
- St Nicholas died in 352, 1659 years ago he has since been resurrected by man become eternal. Jesus rose from the dead to eternal life.
How easy and important it is to convince our children that Santa is real. We love the fantasy and we are upset when our children are no longer believers. We like the magic and excitement to continue as long as it can, even though we know it’s a fantasy.
And yet Jesus is the real, all knowing, ever present, gift giver and true lover of mankind. He really does know if you are naughty or nice and allows you to apologise and be forgiven. Jesus is the one who has reserved a special place in eternity for all who believe and he is the one who not only hears our requests but is waiting in anticipation for them to arrive.
We might say that our children can make that decision for themselves when they are old enough and yet we are prepared without thought, to expose them to a myth or legend only to have them disappointed and their hopes dashed when they realise it not true. However Jesus is real and will never leave us or desert us.
May your Christmas be Joyful!