Sooner or later, the day will come when your child will anxiously ask you that dreaded question just before Christmas…
“Johnny says that Santa Claus isn’t real! Is that true?”
How do you answer that question? By telling them the truth; that not only is Santa Claus a real person, but that you can prove it as well.
So just who is Santa Claus?
Santa Claus’s actual name is “Saint Nicholas”, who was a kindly Bishop of Myra who lived during the 3rd century in what is now known as the southern coast of Turkey. Throughout his young life, Nicholas was a devout Christian, so much so that he took Jesus’ teachings to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor” to heart. He spent his entire inheritance doing exactly that, and he became famous throughout the land for his kindness, generosity, concern for the safety of sailors and perhaps his best known trait, his love for children. He became well known for giving them small gifts when he knew that they had been good during the year.
He is considered to be the patron saint of numerous demographics; children, sailors, scholars, marriageable maidens, judges, paupers and at least a dozen others.
So how did his name evolve from “Saint Nicholas” to “Santa Claus”? One common theory is that young children found the name “Saint Nicholas” to be too complex to say, or perhaps they simply misheard the name when it was spoken. At any rate, his name was commonly somewhat “garbled” by the young children. If you were to say “Santa Claus” quickly out loud, you could probably understand better how that could have happened.
Despite Santa Claus’s Christian origins, I’ve seen several Christians scoff at the notion that he truly represents Christmas. To them, he a symbol of commercialism… an excuse for malls to use his image to advertise sales and to put potential customers into more of a buying mood during the holidays. He is nothing more than a distraction from, as they put it, the “real” meaning of Christmas.
Others simply see him as an imaginary figure from a child’s fairy tale that flies around the entire world in a single day delivering toys to all the good girls and boys. He is someone to be completely discarded by the child once he reaches adulthood, or becomes to “intelligent” to believe in such things any longer. To them, he was never a real person, therefore he never existed. No one who could perform such miracles could have possibly ever existed.
What would happen if we used this same logic on Saint Patrick? Did he really banish all the snakes from Ireland, which some would say is the reason there are no snakes there at all?
Did Moses really part the Red Sea and lead the Hebrews across it to escape the Pharaoh’s army?
Did Jesus really walk on water and even raise the dead, a miracle that Saint Nicholas himself has been credited for?
Even if these miracles were to be proven false without a shadow of a doubt, that doesn’t make these beloved figures any less real.
Yes, Saint Nicholas’ appearance has been drastically altered (though not so much in other countries, such as the Netherlands, where “Sinterklaas” still looks very much like he appeared in the 3rd century). His background has been completely altered in children’s books and on those holiday specials that air on television every year. He certainly doesn’t fly all over the world in a single day on a flying sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer.
But the spirit behind the avatar… one of Saint Nicholas’ hope, generosity, kindness and selfnesses has remained intact.
So the next time one of your children tells you that their “know it all” friend told them that “only babies” believe in Santa Claus, maybe you’ll have a bit of an easier time explaining just who Santa Claus really is. At least now you won’t have to tell them that he was completely made up, and perhaps you can even take the time to learn about him with your child. It could even be educational. I’m sure Saint Nicholas would be pleased.
He is the patron saint of children, after all.
Who is St. Nicholas? : St. Nicholas Center (brief history of Saint Nicholas, and the miracles he is credited with)