Ti's the season when our hearts are warmed by the Christmas tradition of giving to others. While deeply entrenched it is admittedly at times, over-shadowed by voracious consumption. Christmas traditions are numerous, rich and often very special to many worldwide. With the season also comes the gentle and not so gentle reminders to keep Christ in Christmas.
Imagine my surprise to discover the beloved iconic figure often associated with a commercial Christmas may, in fact, be rooted in a very Christian figure of history, and, of course, I am speaking of Saint Nicholas. There is not a lot of information about St. Nicholas except to say that he lived about 300 AD in what is now modern-day Turkey. The history seems to suggest that Nicholas was born to a very wealthy family. He came to faith, was imprisoned and tortured for his faith. With Constantine becoming emperor of the Roman Empire, Nicholas and a number of other Saints we released from their captivity.
Nicholas was a strong promoter and defender of the faith and seems as if he was well respected and well loved by the countless he served. As such, St. Nicholas was appointed Bishop of Myra. It is often reported that Nicholas was a very generous man and put his money where his mouth was. As mentioned above, Nicholas’s family was very well to do and in time he would inherit these vast resources. There are many stories of how Nicholas was extravagantly generous with people, especially the poor.
One such story was of a father with three daughters. The family was extremely poor, and the father was faced with the terrible decision of having to sell his daughters into prostitution for the survival of the family. Nicholas, upon hearing this, under the cover of night would sneak to the house of the family where he threw a bag of gold through the window or down the chimney. He did this three times, once for each of the daughters ensuring that the family’s need was met and that the three daughters would not be sold.
There are different versions of this story - one tells that the daughters had their heads cut off by someone the family owed money to. The story goes that Nicholas collected the heads, prayed and the daughters were supernaturally brought back to life! As fantastic as this story is there are numerous stories of God doing some pretty fantastic miracles through St. Nicholas. So numerous he earned the nickname “Nicholas the Wonder Worker.”
St. Nicholas is celebrated yearly on December 6, and it is often marked with the giving of gifts, just as Nicholas was known for. At the Reformation, St. Nicholas as the gift giver was replaced with the Christ-Child the ultimate gift-giver or in German “Christkindl”. This translates to “Kris Kringle” which ironically became another name for Santa Claus.
As you prepare and enjoy your Christmas celebration, with all the rich and wonderful family traditions, my prayer is that through them all Jesus would continue to be that source of meaning, hope, and love - throughout the season and in the year to come!
Did you know?
- Santa comes from the word Saint (St.)
- Claus is a short form of Nicholas
- Santa’s red suit may have comes from the fact that Bishops in Catholicism wear red.
- Santa’s Red bag may come from the red bag St. Nicholas put the gold into to throw through the window.
- Santa Claus coming down the chimney may have come from St. Nicholas dropping his gifts of gold through the chimney instead of a window.
- Some of the traditions around Christmas and Santa Claus may have been influenced by the German god Odin and many of those traditions may have been “christianized.” This is probably where the flying reindeer may have come in and the tradition of Santa filling stockings (boots) with gifts and candy. The Christmas Tree itself was a christianized pagan symbol.
- Clement of Alexandra (150 -215 c.e.) was one of the first to postulate the actual date of Jesus’ birthday. He figured that date of his birth was probably May 20th in our calendar. (28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon)
- The earliest Christmas celebrations we know about was around 250-300 c.e.