by Stan Smith
I hate Santa Claus. Oh, that's probably too harsh. But the images we're given and the concepts we're taught surrounding this fictional character are just ... well ... wrong. You know, for instance, that he has a "Naughty and Nice" list. What happens to the naughty? Well, they're supposed to get a lump of coal in their stocking, but no one gets a lump of coal. In a recent car commercial I saw Santa Claus is examining two lines of luxury cars -- one red and the other white -- which are being loaded onto vehicles for delivery. The white ones go to the "Nice" and the red ones to the "Naughty". "Oh, boo hoo! I'm naughty so I got a red Mercedes instead of a white one." So what does that tell us? Either Santa Claus is unjust or everyone is "Nice". Not good on either count. Parents like to use Santa as a behavioral control tool in that way. Kids have already figured out it doesn't work.
Or how about the Santa letter concept? "Here you go, kid. Focus on everything you might ever want, write a letter to Santa asking for it, and recognize your request as a righteous demand. If you don't get it, you've been robbed. Get mad." You just try to teach the notion that "It's the season of giving" in an atmosphere like that.
Then, of course, there's the whole "Really, kids, Santa is real" problem. You keep that up for as long as you can and then, one day, they figure out that no such being exists. Ditto the Easter Bunny. Now, if you can, try to convince said child that Christ is real. Good luck with that.
So, I hate Santa Claus. That, on the other hand, shouldn't be a problem ... because he's fictional. It's a fictional character I don't like. Saint Nicholas, on the other hand, is another story.
Nicholas (sometimes "Nicholas of Bari" or "Nicholas of Myra") lived in the 4th century. He lived in what is today known as Turkey. Historians believe he was the bishop of Myra. Nicholas did prison time under the Roman emperor Diocletian for being a Christian and was released by Constantine. He was at the First Council of Nicaea.
Nicholas has quite a reputation. He was "good enough" to be deemed a "saint" by the Roman Catholic Church. He was very well known for his generosity and kindness. Born to wealth, Nicholas made it his life practice to live a holy, giving life rather than a rich, spoiled one. His best known acts involved giving to the needs of children. This attribute, in fact, was the spawn of the Santa Claus theme. One story is told of three daughters without dowries who were going to end up as slaves. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in the stockings or shoes that were hung by the fire to dry for each of the three sisters, saving them from their fate. The mysterious benefactor was Nicholas. And, of course, you've got the makings of a typical Santa Claus scene there, with mysterious gifts, stockings, and fireplaces all included.
One lesser known story of Nicholas describes well a man zealous for His God. As bishop of Myra, Nicholas was in attendance of the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The council was called to address the Arian Heresy. Arius (who, by the way, had the favor of Constantine) held that Jesus was a created being, not God the Son. Nicholas listened to Arius presenting his views at the council meeting and, finally, could stand no more. The story goes that he walked up to Arius and argued with him for a bit. Arius didn't budge, so Nicholas hit him hard enough to knock him to the ground. Nicholas was arrested and then released, but there could be no doubt that he was passionate about His Savior.
Santa Claus? Fictional. You can have him. Saint Nicholas? To me, he's a pretty good example to follow. He was not "jolly" -- no "belly full of jelly" -- because he skipped meals in order to give more. He was rich but saw it as a means to be generous. He was generous but not frivolously -- he met the real needs of real people. And his biggest passion was not "toys for all the boys and girls", but a serious love for Christ reflected in a life lived for Him. Now that is a Saint Nick I can get behind.
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I'm married with four grown children and (currently) four grandchildren. My wife and I live in sunny Phoenix by choice. I hope to encourage people with my words and to share with others what God has shared with me.
For more writings you can see my blog at birdsoftheair.blogspot.com.
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