Reclaiming St. Nick
by Stephen Wende
Friends, I’m tired of hearing people run down Santa Claus. Everywhere I turn, folks are saying that we need to throw out Santa and get back to the essence of the season: Jesus, born in Bethlehem.
The instincts of these folks are wonderful. We do need to cut through the materialistic swamp and rediscover the central miracle—that God became like us so that we could become like him. But let’s not include Santa in the things we throw away! Santa’s been working his heart out for Jesus for 1,600 years, and if his image is warped, it’s our fault and not his.
Santa (or more properly, St. Nicholas) started in Asia Minor in the fourth century. He was renowned for his compassion. Born into a very wealthy family, he very quickly gave all his money away. He became a Bishop of the church (that’s what you do with people who can’t handle money, put them to work for the church) and his contemporaries thought he was the living image of Jesus.
He did not like to embarrass people in need, so he would sneak up on them and leave gifts for them to find later. His special concerns were the poor and the children, and he was active in efforts for social justice as well as personal charity. After his death, he was declared a saint. Yet, death didn’t slow him down very much. He has been seen in countries all over the world ever since. Sometimes he is riding on horseback, sometimes on a camel. In at least a few instances he has been spotted in a cart pulled by two goats named Cracker and Gnasher.
His first confirmed sighting in this country was in 1821, by Dr. Clement Moore, professor of divinity at the General Theological Seminary in New York. Dr. Moore was so excited that he wrote a poem about his experience. Apparently, he wasn’t too sure how his fellow scholars at the seminary would respond to the report, so he left his name off the first publication. The poem, however, has become the definitive statement of how St. Nicholas has chosen to appear in our country (with reindeer this time), and you could not ask for a more credible witness than Dr. Moore.
“Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse.”
Throw out Santa? That’s absurd! Let’s reclaim him instead! Let’s make sure the children know that St. Nicholas does what he does as an expression of Christ’s love. He gives with abandon and with joy in the giving, in the same way that God gives life and love and everything we have. And like God himself, St. Nick gives and then asks us to share with others.
As Jesus said to His disciples, “Go thou, and do likewise.”
By the Rev. Dr. Stephen Wende, from Estes Park Trail Gazette, December 13, 2020.