As a parent to young children this time of year I am caught in the tension of wanting my kids to have wonder when it comes to their imagination but also wanting them to know they can trust what I say, that I won’t mislead them.
The topic of Santa Claus introduces imagination but it also introduces lies, potentially. Me weighing what is more important, keeping the wonder within my child’s heart or wanting them to trust me long-term, or having a bit of both, is on my mind each winter.
I want to encourage imagination in my children and yet I need to be aware this time of year of my actions and excitement being towards Jesus (who is real) and not toward an exaggerated jolly man (who isn’t real, at least, not how he’s pictured today).
There are historical facts when it comes to Santa Claus. He lived as a real person. His name was Nicholas of Demre. He lived in the 4th century. There’s an augmented statue of him in the city of Demre, which is on the south coast of Turkey.
Nicholas had wealthy parents who died to an epidemic when he was a teenager. As an orphan he went to live with his uncle, who was a priest.
Nicholas used the great inheritance he was given by his deceased parents and gave it to the needy and the sick who were near him. He then dedicated his life to serving people becoming the Bishop of Myrna. In serving others daily and being generous toward them, his legacy grew.
What has been embellished today of Nicholas as Santa Claus is amateur compared to the the real-life leader in the church he really was. He was violently discriminated against because of his faith, being put in prison for serving Jesus Christ. Under persecution he served time in jail, but was released in time to travel to what would be a historical conference event known as the Council of Nicaea (pronounced: nice-sea-uh).
The Council of Nicaea took place 1,700 years ago in the northern part of Turkey. Church scholars across the known world gathered urgently in hopes of settling a disagreement. The main issue discussed at this council was Jesus Christ and His direct relationship with God the Father. Was/is Jesus God or was He someone who was born in Bethlehem/raised in Nazareth/died in Jerusalem and was just like every other human? Is Jesus God or was He just a man? Is He alive or is He dead? Is He divine or dust and ashes?
The conclusive decision they arrived at has shaped the church we find amongst us today.
They confirmed via historical evidence that Jesus is God from God. Light of the world from Light from heaven. True God from true God. They said Jesus is begotten, as the old school King James Version of John 3:16 says. Meaning Jesus was not created or made. He’s begotten. They determined that Jesus Christ was, quote, “of the same substance of the Father.”
To get to this decision wasn’t an easy, unified process. It took 60 days. The conference lasted for 2 months (and you thought your Zoom meetings were exhausting). One side said Jesus was just a human while the other side argued He is God’s Son, God Himself.
There was a false teacher at this council of Nicaea who was visibly passionate that Jesus was just a man, just a teacher, only human. His name was Arias and he was screaming for two months that Jesus was finite, not eternal; just a good man, not an extraordinary God.
Would you like to guess who, in righteous anger, debated against Arias’s false claim? His name starts with an “S” and ends in “anta.” Nicholas was the first voice and the consistent voice, defending Jesus as God.
In fact, he was so vexed by the false accusation that Jesus was just a man that he got up from the table he was sitting at, walked across the room and he slapped Arias in the face.
Santa. Slapped. Someone. In. The. Face.
Merry Christmas, Arias.
If you’re wondering how serious this was back then, to slap someone at a church conference, attend a worship service and ask any person to role play with you. They’ll be Arias and you be Nicolas and let the slapping begin to feel how serious this was.
Let me say that if I ever spread word that Jesus was just a man, isn’t/wasn’t God, you have my permission to bring the force of Marshall Eriksen’s hand to my face (that’s a How I Met Your Mother reference, click here).
Defending Jesus’ deity is what Nicholas is factually famous for. We don’t find 8 reindeer or milk and cookies or a XXL red jump suit or a North Pole. We find this infamous slap in stance that Jesus was and is God. And because he did, the church believes it today.
A few years after Nicholas’ death in 343 AD, the Santa legend started and his life became exaggerated. Mystics proclaimed that a healing liquid flowed up out of the ground around Nicholas’ grave. They bottled up this so-called healing liquid and since there was no valid medical research then, they claimed that it healed others. The rumor in the streets was, Nicholas was generous in his life, and now he is being generous after death with this healing liquid!
A thousand years later, in the 1400’s, Vikings on ship ran into land located at the northern most part of the globe. Even though the land was covered in ice, they named it Greenland. They chose to build a cathedral in honor of Nicholas (that’s how we get the North Pole narrative).
When Christopher Columbus kind of found America, he first ran into Haiti and named a port there after Nicholas (that’s how Santa made his way over to the Western Hemisphere).
The modern day picture of Santa Claus gained steam during our America’s Civil War in the mid-1800’s.
A cartoonist named Thomas Nast illustrated a guy with a white beard in a red suit and he used his cartoons to jab at the South saying Santa Claus was Pro-Union, for the North, and he wasn’t going to visit any household in the Confederacy on Christmas Eve.
Santa being involved in political cartoon warfare, added with the poem a few decades earlier in 1824, Twas the Night Before Christmas, is primarily how we get the modern day mockery of Nicholas.
If we strip all of the holiday fluff away and get to the facts, Nicholas was this amazing, passionate, unapologetic, doctrinally-sound, generous and selfless man. The only reason I want to emulate him with my day is because he emulated Jesus with his life.
When looking at the Santa Claus the world has dreamed up it’s this older man who loves and gives to others and expects good behavior, he brings us happiness and he’s there when you expect him to be, so he’s dependable. And I would suggest that:
The Santa that humanity has created comes out of a hunger for a good father.
The British call him: Father Christmas.
Every craving, hope, excitement, need and expectation humanity has in what Santa Claus represents comes back to their true need for wanting a good, loving, promise-keeping, gracious father in their life.
It’s all found and satisfied, not in Father Christmas, but in the heavenly Father of Christ.
Keep imagining about Santa but understand all of your spiritual and emotional needs are met beyond your love for the holidays and beyond your imagination. All of you can be found and healed and met through a God who sent His Son out of undying love for you.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16, KJV)
The fake Santa, the real Nicholas and even a healthy, loving earthy father cannot give you everlasting life. Only your heavenly Father can. Get excited about that.
Thanks for reading. You are loved. Merry Christmas.