Santa Claus & Saint Nicholas
He sits on his throne in the mall, surrounded by giant plastic candy canes, Styrofoam snowmen, and seasonal workers dressed as elves. His job is to sit and listen as children rattle off a list of store-bought toys they want to find under the tree on Christmas morning. What would the 20 billion dollar Christmas shopping season be without Santa? Of course, eventually we figure out that Santa is a mythical figure. No one does all the things we claim he can do. No Santa really spends all year making toys just to give them away to children. In reality, all those toys are bought by moms and dads at Walmart and Target and the mall—sometimes with money they really don't have to spare. For some children, "Santa" is remarkably generous, bringing them every single thing on their wish list. For others, those living in poor neighborhoods or on fixed incomes, "Santa" is much less generous.
The real St. Nicholas was a committed follower of Christ, a man who loved God and cared for the poorest of the poor. Around the year AD 310, Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra in today's Turkey. He was a generous man who used his own wealth to keep people from being slaves to the Roman Empire. At one time, he was even imprisoned for faith by the Romans.
St. Nicholas helped people who needed help—children, sailors, hungry people (during a famine), and those who were the victims of injustice—people who are the most vulnerable. He is remembered for secretly tossing sacks of gold into the windows of the homes of poor families and is even remembered as a healer of the sick. From these and other legends, Nicholas became the patron saint of children, sailors, merchants, prisoners, travelers, and young people who want to marry. Because of his gift giving, caring character, his popularity, and the fact that his saint's day is December 6th, St. Nicholas became a central Christmas figure.
By Brian Kirk, Rethinking Youth Ministry, Union Avenue Christian Church, St. Louis, Missouri. Permission pending.