She was cheerful, spritely even, as she scanned our purchases. Chattering away to Master-Four, she asked the obvious question for the time of year, “What’s Santa going to bring you?” He didn’t even hesitate. Didn’t even blink before bleating his reply.
Did the whole store go silent, or was it just my imagination?
The sharp intake of breath sounded like something elicited from heavy industrial equipment rather than a few pairs of lungs.
We laughed nervously and I tried to explain that we celebrated Jesus at Christmastime, that Santa was more of a cartoon character to my son.
Her mouth stretched across her face but her eyes were hard – it was clear I’d been branded unfit for motherhood. What kind of mother tells her child that Santa’s dead?!
This incident happened a few days after we Googled Saint Nicholas. We had explained that the fiction of Santa was based on the truth of Saint Nicholas, a real man who lived long ago.
St Nick’s story is intriguing.
Young Nicholas was born to wealthy parents in the village of Patara, which was then Greek, situated on the southern coast of Turkey. He was raised a devout Christian but sadly his parents died in an epidemic while he was a child.
Nicholas took his faith seriously and obeyed Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:21 to, “…sell everything you have and give to the poor.” Nick used his entire inheritance to help the sick and needy, and he quickly became known for his generosity and love for children.
Nicholas was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man but under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Bishop Nicholas was persecuted and imprisoned for his Christian faith. According to saintnicholascentre.org, “The prisons were so full of bishops, priests and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals — murderers, thieves and robbers.”
After his release, Nick died on December 6, AD 343.
I’ve never been a fan of Santa. I always felt he robbed Christmas of its true meaning, but after reading up on Santa’s roots – that is, on Saint Nicholas – my resolve has softened.
Because when I read about Saint Nick, I know he wouldn’t be well pleased with the way that HE is put on a pedestal above Jesus. Saint Nicholas was motivated by Jesus to acts of generosity. He followed Christ’s instruction to “give!”
I can see old Saint Nick now, with his fulsome white beard and twinkling eyes saying, “What have you done to me?!”
There he was back in AD three-hundred-and-something, pedaling Biblical messages of generosity and goodwill, and here’s his doppelganger today, Santa, doing quite the opposite. Santa who has kids everywhere writing lists and badgering their parents with what they WANT.
Perhaps I’m a party-pooper.
I can see some of you pitying my kids who won’t have the thrill of waking up on Christmas morn to check if Santa ate his biscuit and cocoa, or if the reindeer ate their carrots.
I dunno. There’s still fun and gifts and imagining in our house, it’s just tempered with truth.
The truth that Christmas is the day we celebrate the birth of Christ.
The truth that Saint Nick himself was motivated to generosity by the baby born that day.
The truth of hope.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday December 14, 2015.