Today, December 6th, is the death anniversary of Saint Nicholas, who passed on nearly 1700 years ago in either 345 or 352 A.D., yet Santa Claus lives on! Among Catholics and other fellow Christians, a great debate rages whether children should be introduced to Santa Claus or not, with strong arguments put forth from the pro and anti camps. The Church has certainly not ruled one way or another on this topic of allowing children to believe in Santa Claus coming on Christmas Eve night. But I want to tell you that I’m 34 years old, and I still believe in Santa Claus. There was a time, when I was 9 years old, that the magic of Santa Claus seemed to drain out of my young soul and burn up in the beautiful brick fireplace that my Father had built in the basement on what was then my parents farm in Northeastern Colorado. It was a crushing experience, the apparent realization that there was no Santa Claus. Though,as the years passed, and as I entered college and became a young adult, there was a growing awareness that what I believed as a young child, struck very much more near the truth than the bitter reality that I thought I had faced up to at age 9. Santa Claus was not a mythical character.
The Santa Claus I thought I knew was, it turned out, Saint Nicholas. I realized that he was, afterall, real. I felt vindicated. The childhood Nate was back. By the time of my college years, I owned a couple different Santa Claus suits that I wore from time to time, to act as a helper for Saint Nick. Santa Claus, as he has come to be known in America, was an Americanization of the Dutch Sinterklaas, referring to Saint Nicholas. The very name Santa Claus was not made up. Nor is Saint Nicholas, the great saint of the 4th Century, a fable. Known as both Saint Nicholas of Myra and Saint Nicholas of Bari, little solid evidence is known about him, other than that he was a bishop in Myra,Turkey. He has also come to be known by the title of Saint Nicholas the wonderworker. By medieval times, Saint Nicholas was venerated far and wide across Europe with many churches in his name. We hear that he had not only an affinity for helping children, including alleged reports that he raised children from the dead, and generously provided dowries for three girls about to be sold into slavery if they could not make good marriages. He also, it is said, vigorously and passionately defended the divinity of Christ, even slugging Arius at the First Council of Nicaea, for denying that Christ Jesus was God. Some, it should be noted, doubt he was at the council of Nicaea. Up to the present day, the bodily remains of Saint Nicholas, that reside in Bari,Italy are thought to have a miraculous quality. The very bones of the saint purportedly exude an oil like substance. While some doubt the veracity of the claims, various scientists have been hard put to explain why the bones of this saint exude an oily substance that some consider miraculous in its qualities. Even though so little historical evidence is concrete about this bishop of the Church, the title wonder worker, indeed fits the miracles attributed to him over the centuries.
As for my own experience with Saint Nicholas, I had grown up in a devout Roman Catholic household that embraced Santa Claus and his team of reindeer. That childhood fascination with Santa Claus co-existed in a secondary manner, alongside my tender devotion to the Christ Child from a young age, a Christ Child that really was the center of my attention. Santa Claus was never allowed to supplant Jesus. If there was joy in the reality of Santa Claus, it found its source in the Babe of Bethlehem. My place through the long nights of Advent most often was found, not sitting by the Christmas tree, but instead resting in a chair by our home’s bay window, where my parent’s treasured family heirloom German nativity scene was placed year after year. The three window panes of that bay window were bedecked with blue Christmas lights and as one looked through them, you gazed out upon our often snow drift filled backyard, the open fields covered in white, and the starry skies of the wintry prairie of Northeastern Colorado.
If you were especially discerning, your childhood eyes and imagination glimpsed a winter mirage of shepherds with their flocks and the hillsides of Bethlehem, and angels announcing the Good News, and a cave out of which shone the everlasting light, and in that myriad of stars, you wondered if you too might glimpse momentarily the dazzle that was the Star Of Bethlehem, leading the wise men to the true light that enlightens us all. This bay window faced northwards as well, in the direction of the North Pole. And we all know that the North Pole is the home of Santa Claus.
The “myth” of Santa Claus was no lie. I, and those I love, have never seen letting children embrace myths and stories as being offenses against truth. Telling stories illustrates truths. Storyteling is not lying. Sure, an older child, asking point blank if Santa Claus is really at the North Pole with reindeer, need not and should not be answered with a lie. But, fostering the fantasy world of Santa Claus for young children that believe, and want to believe, in Santa Claus is not perpetuation of falsehood. Santa Claus is actually real, though what he does with his immortal self is subjected to our merrymaking fancy and Christmas fairytales. Children, like all of us really, learn best from stories, even in a scientifically skeptical age. The truth is, science can’t explain every facet of our lives on Earth, let alone death and the life to come on the other side of the veil. For children, Santa Claus can begin to foster devotion and prayer to the Saints, helping them understand the communion of saints, demonstrating to them that there are spirits created by our God that are good that watch over and protect us, whom we cannot know and prove scientifically, an excellent beginning not only for understanding the saints but also the angels. Fostering a deep belief in Santa Claus shows children that good is rewarded and bad punished, and as another writing I came across pointed out, children need not dispense with belief in Santa Claus as they grow up. Their understanding should, instead, mature. While one should not feel obligated to let their children grow up believing in Santa Claus, I find no reason at all to justify anyone’s children that don’t believe in Santa Claus, ruining the innocent beliefs of other children that do believe in Santa Claus, who I reiterate, is real.
Looking back and reminiscing, I recall that we would leave Christmas Eve Mass when I was a child, departing our tiny but beautiful Catholic Church of Saint Peter’s in the hamlet down the road of 200 people, a village not so unlike Bethlehem of old. I would gaze up at the same skies, and think that a red flashing light that my eyes settled upon was not that of an airplane, but that of Rudolph guiding a sleigh that carried Santa Claus himself. I had a wild imagination that placed hopes in all that could be, all that Christmas made possible.
As time has marched on, I’ve realized Saint Nicholas is indeed up in the sky in a sense, the same winter prairie sky that enchanted my youth. I still look up to that starry night sky, especially on calm evenings spent in quiet time with the Lord, Saints and Angels in prayer. “Santa Claus”, Saint Nicholas, is among their ranks.
Between us and those who have passed on to life eternal in our Lord Jesus, nothing separates us from the love of Christ. As members of the Body of Christ, we on Earth form an intimate union with those who journey on in the purification of purgatory and in the eternal bliss of the face to face vision of God. Our prayers to Saint Nicholas truly are heard. He is a member of the cloud of witnesses that cheers us on to run the race and keep the faith. As we ask one another for prayers on Earth, so too can we ask the saints in Heaven for their intercession to our Savior God as well, without diminishment of our Lord Christ Jesus’ role as being the mediator between God and Man. We are called to pray for one another, and the sweet reality is that as members of the Body of Christ, we participate in Christ’s mediatorship, and are even called to be co-workers of God. Those that live on in Christ are much closer to us than we realize.
My childhood memories of writing letters to Santa Claus are not so different from the fact that we can pray to Saint Nicholas and that by the power of God, he does hear our petitions that he will in turn pray to our loving God on our behalf. Does he see us when we are sleeping and know when we are awake? Perhaps. Does Saint Nicholas bring us gifts? We know as adults that he does not, not in the way that our childhood minds believed, nor is he exactly who we believed him to be then. Inasmuch as Santa Claus, for us, is in truth the real life Saint Nicholas, does he bring us gifts? Indeed. In his intercession for us, in his intimate communion, gazing at God face to face in the eternal bliss of Heaven, he does even more good than he so lovingly did on Earth, praying for, and undoubtedly receiving from the hands of God, numerous graces of priceless worth to bestow upon the Faithful, especially those that ask his intercession. Does he live at the North Pole? As one writer so tenderly put it, Saint Nicholas indeed dwells at the North Pole of the hearts of all that still believe, at the same North Pole where his and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ dwells as King.
Thus, as concerns of the fostering of devotion to Santa Claus by children far and wide in the times we live in, united necessarily to the main attraction of the Birth of Jesus, I believe that it can magnify belief in miracles. The belief that with God, all things are possible, the hope that in the life to come, all that we truly, rightly, and justly dream to be will come to fruition. Yes, because the Word was made flesh, we have become a new creation in Christ, and the world we have got is in a state of journeying towards being the world that it ought be in the life to come. A world where the deepest desires and yearnings of our heart will be more than satisfied, for we shall see the face of Christ and live, and all that we’ve wept for and hoped for, shall be more than realized.
Perhaps you celebrate Christmas Eve night with the children awaiting Santa Claus, in which case I recommend strongly that you foster within them the sense that Santa Claus is Saint Nicholas who bows to and draws all his graces, blessings, joy and his own very existence from the Christ child, who is God himself. Whether you do this, or if you rather choose to have Saint Nicholas visit your house on the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas in early December to fill the children’s stockings, this is the truth of the matter: Saint Nicholas lives indeed. He lives in Christ. He was and is as real as you and I. He is a great saint of the Church, with a feast day celebrated on December 6th. I’ve even prayed with a first class relic of Saint Nicholas! He loved the same Christ that came to us as a tiny Child, and now he lives on in Christ and Christ in him. He is not dead, but more alive now than when he walked the Earth proclaiming the Gospel of Christ Jesus.
As unlikely to some as seems, Santa Claus with his reindeer and elves and a workshop of toys at the North Pole, and the absurd unlikelihood of a sleigh somehow laden with those toys for all the world’s children, the sweeter fact for our souls is that when Christ came, the greatest gift and miracle of all was received by the human race, in a way that seemed impossible. Christ came tearing wide open the Heavens, opening back up eternal life to our fallen race, beginning his redemption of us all from the first moment of his conception, that would not be completed until his Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension back to the Father. And now, in this the Age of the Holy Spirit, we, along with the angels and saints, including Saint Nicholas, see anew all the mighty wonders and works that the Lord has done for us, and it is assuredly wonderful in our sight.
Saint Nicholas, Pray for us that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ!