It’s one of the most dreaded and feared questions a parent will ever face: Is Santa real? How do you answer this simple and yet profound question? On one hand, you might want to try to savor and prolong your child’s wonderment and innocence surrounding the Christmas season for at least one more year. On the other, you may want to rip the proverbial Band-Aid off and let them in on the secret we all know—that the mall Santa sits on a throne of lies! Maybe you’ve never told your child Santa is real, yet they still wonder.
But, there may be another (possibly less shocking) path to take as you help your loved little one mature in their celebration of Christmas. This would be telling them about the true Saint Nicholas, the person who was the inspiration behind the modern version of Santa Claus. Is Santa real? Well, that depends.
To be fair, we don’t know much about the life of Saint Nicholas. We don’t have mountains of historical documents written about him. Nevertheless, he was a real person who made a real difference for Christ throughout his life.
Here are some of the details we know about jolly ol’ Saint Nick.
- Nicholas was born, supposedly, to wealthy parents roughly 300 years after Christ’s resurrection. Tragically, they died while he was still young. He inherited a large sum of money but chose to keep none of it, instead devoting it toward helping others in need.
- Nicholas became the bishop of Myra, an ancient Greek town located in the southwest tip of what is now modern Turkey. Soon thereafter, under heavy persecution, Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned by the Roman Emperor, Diocletian.
- Nicholas remained a prisoner until freed by Emperor Constantine. Shortly thereafter, he attended the Council of Nicea in 325 AD and was one of the original bishops who signed the Nicene Creed.
- Nicholas died on December 6, 343 AD and was buried in a cathedral church bearing his name in Myra (now called Demre). According to tradition, miracles continued for centuries after his death at this cathedral. This helped propel Saint Nicholas’ popularity throughout the ages.
So if we don’t have tons written about his life, how is it that Saint Nicholas is one of the most popular figures in Greek and Latin churches?
One word: generosity. The numerous stories about his life center around how generous Saint Nicholas was in helping those in need, especially children. One such story of his generosity involved a poor man and his three daughters. Unable to provide a dowry for their marriages, the three young girls were destined for a life of slavery or even worse, prostitution. On three separate occasions, Saint Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through this family’s open window at night and personally paid the dowry for each young lady. Generosity has its roots deeply planted in godly love, kindness, and goodness, which are three pillar fruits the Holy Spirit cultivates in Christ followers’ lives. When we, as Christ followers, use these fruits to impact those around us, the world takes notice.
“But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things!” Galatians 5:22-23 NLT
The Legacy of Saint Nicholas
While his life lacks vast historical proof, his generosity has ensured his Christian legacy long after his death. December 6 is celebrated throughout much of the world today as Saint Nicholas’ Day. Each country has its traditions, but the Dutch traditions are considered to be the source from which Saint Nicholas has morphed into the modern Santa Claus legend. In the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas, or Sinterklaas as he is known, is celebrated by throwing candies through doors or windows of homes. Dutch children leave hay and carrots in their shoes for Sinterklaas’ horse on the eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day, in the hopes he will exchange them for gifts. When Dutch immigrants found their way to the United States, they brought these traditions with them, and thanks to a particular poem in 1823 by Clement Moore, the modern version of Santa Claus was born.
Does Santa Claus really exist? Well, that depends upon how you choose to celebrate Christmas. If you choose to be generous, to help those in need, to make the holiday more about giving than receiving, to point people to Christ’s birth and life, then I’d say, yes, the spirit of Sinterklaas, or Saint Nicholas, is alive and well today!
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!