Yes, America, There Is A Santa Claus
by Pamela J. Adams
Christians love Christmas, anxious to celebrate the first coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Yet when my daughter was born, the holiday soon presented a bit of dilemma for us. We needed to figure out how to allow our child the experience of Santa Claus while making sure Jesus' birth remained the 'Reason for the Season'. The answer lies in the truth of who Santa Claus really was.
As traditions usually stem from actual events, where did Santa Claus come from and why did he start giving gifts? The story begins all the way back to the early 4th century.
When Emperor Constantine assumed the throne, he became the first Roman leader to openly accept and spread Christianity. During Constantine’s reign, a priest named Arius began preaching that Christ was created and thus not equal to God. Arianism flatly denied Christ’s presence during creation, which contradicted such verses as "Then God said, 'Let US make mankind in OUR image, in OUR likeness...'" (Genesis 1:26 emphasis mine). In doing so, they rejected the triune God, or Trinity. Despite the inconsistency with the Bible, his beliefs gained followers and supporters.
Aware of these discrepancies, Constantine called a council of church leaders, to be held in Nicaea, to address such issues. In addition, he asked them to compose a formal united doctrine within the church.
During the meeting, Arius addressed the council with his new teaching. As he made his argument, the Bishop of Myra quickly put Arius in his place. The Bishop simply quoted one line of scripture:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1, understanding that 'the Word' John referred to was Jesus.
The Bishop of Myra then walked up to Arius and punched him. This well-respected church leader is best known as Jolly O’ Saint Nick.
Strong defenders of the faith, Nicholas and the other church leaders were horribly offended by Arius’ break from the teachings of the Bible. After rejecting Arius and his false theology, they continued their mission to produce a unified church doctrine. Their efforts produced the Nicene Creed, or statement of faith, still recited in churches today. Addressing Arius’ inaccuracies, the creed clearly defines the three entities of the triune God as being separate but equal and existing from the beginning.
Later, St. Methodius described Nicholas’ strong protection of his faith:
“Thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as death-dealing poison.”
This is the true Santa Claus. He was not a marketing gimmick to turn our attention away from Christ and his birth. Rather, a defender of the true meaning of Christmas. A voice in the wilderness calling people back to God.
Nicholas was born to a wealthy couple less than 300 years after Christ. They lived in the ancient city of Patara, located in modern-day Turkey. Becoming an orphan when an epidemic took his parents, Nicholas’s Uncle Nicholas, the Bishop of Patara, raised him in the church.
As a teenager, Nicholas traveled to the Holy Land where he experienced where Jesus lived, died and rose again, which affected him greatly. On his return trip by sea, a violent storm arose, jeopardizing the ship and passengers. Nicholas prayed for protection and the sea miraculously calmed, sparing the ship and all on board. As a result, Nicholas became the patron saint of sailors and voyagers upon being sainted.
Feeling called to the ministry by God, Nicholas began his journey in the church. He soon rose to bishop in the city of Myra, also in modern-day Turkey. He was in this position at the time of the Council of Nicaea.
In 303 AD, Roman Emperor Diocletian began persecuting followers of Christ. He ordered all Christians captured and tortured before throwing them in jail. Soon finding himself imprisoned for his beliefs, even several beatings could not falter Nicholas’ faith. In addition, he even defended other prisoners unjustly charged, strengthening his legacy of humanity and justice.
Relief came when Emperor Constantine assumed power in 306 AD. He ordered the release of all Christian prisoners, including Nicholas, who returned to Myra.
An only son, Nicholas inherited all of his parents’ wealth after their death. An ardent follower of Christ, he used his inheritance to buy gifts, food and other items for the poor and needy with his money. This began his legacy of a generous man as accounts of his kindness spread.
One story of Nicholas’ compassion involves a poor widower and his three daughters. The widower could not afford a proper dowry for even one of his girls. At the time, unwed young females often became slaves. Nicholas secretly gave the man money for each daughter. Some say he tossed a bag of gold through a window while others believe he dropped it down the chimney. Regardless, the bag landed in a stocking hanging from the mantel to dry, expanding St. Nick’s legend.
The father eventually learned Nicholas gave the anonymous dowries and wanted to thank him. Nicholas simply replied, “Don’t thank me, thank God alone.”
Nicholas died on December 6, 343 AD. When sainted, December 6th marked his feast day, known as St. Nicholas Day. In the 5th century, nuns continued his tradition of anonymously helping the poor. In remembrance of him, they left food and clothes at the homes of the needy during his night.
The predominance of saints sharply decreased after the Reformation and millions left the Catholic church. Nevertheless, St. Nicholas’ legend continued to grow even among Protestants, taking on variations throughout the world. For example, he is known as “Sinterklaas” in Holland. German, Swiss, and Dutch children leave shoes and stockings outside the door hoping for candy and treats from St Nicholas. However, naughty boys and girls wake to a lump of coal.
Eventually, immigrants brought the tradition of St. Nicholas to America. Clement Clarke Moore’s 1820 poem “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” forever changed the saint’s legend. St. Nick became a heavy, jolly man who flies through the air with eight reindeer and slides down chimneys. Cartoonist Thomas Nast finished Santa Claus’ transformation in 1881, adding a red suit with white fur trim to the merry character.
St. Nicholas was an incredibly faithful, God-fearing man. He quite literally fought for the Gospel. Even under torture and imprisonment, he refused to deny his Lord and Savior. Obeying Christ’s commandment to love his neighbor, Nicholas used his good fortune to benefit the needy.
Most legends stem from some degree of authenticity. Actual events are embellished and fantasized with variations in each story. Regardless, the most remarkable element remains the grain of truth that exists in the tale. St. Nicholas’ legacy remains a map for each new generation that constantly points them to Jesus.
So yes, America, there is a Santa Claus. He was an amazing follower of Christ. Therefore, don’t get distracted by the modern understanding of the jolly old man who gives you presents on Christmas. Instead, focus on the bishop who risked his life and spent his family fortune professing and spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is the Santa Claus we should remember. This is the Santa Claus we should emulate.
But that’s just my 2 cents.
About the Author
Pamela J. Adams was a high school math teacher in an inner city school system but her passion is research and history. Pam has authored several genealogy books along with compilations of her historical blogs, Liberating Letters, which she maintains at her website TheFactsPaper.com. You can find more details about her books on her Amazon Page.
You can follow her current blogs at her Liberating Letters Facebook, Twitter, and Patreon accounts. Her desire is to provide a tool for teachers, parents, grandparents, and citizens to preserve and pass on America's rich history to students, family, and all people who love freedom and liberty. Pamela was also a contributing writer to Constitution.com before joining Pandora’s Box Gazette.
“Read more untold stories and how they still relate to us today at TheFactsPaper.com.”
You can read Pamela’s “I Never Heard That” column on the 2nd Wednesday each month here at Pandora’s Box Gazette