The first comment goes to Sarah Hart, of Christian music fame:
My early Christmas present: My 6th grade daughter said “mom, some kids at school don’t believe in Santa…but I DO. You know why? Cause Santa Claus is a saint…and how can you not believe in a saint?”
Indeed, St. Nicholas is directly translated, word for word (to keep the liturgy folks happy) as Santa Claus.
Matthew Warner picks up on this theme over at Fallible Blogma:
First, the story of Santa Claus is a Christian story. Hello! When told properly, it points to and emphasizes Jesus Christ. So, it’s actually one of the (fun) ways to “get back to the reason for the season.” And kids like fun.
Second, therefore, Santa Claus is not the problem. The commercialization of Christmas has victimized him as much as any of us. In fact, I’m pretty sure the real Santa Claus isn’t taking all of this too lightly, either.
Which brings me to my next point, Santa Claus is a real person. So it’s not a lie to say that Santa Claus is real. He has died, yes. But he’s not really dead. He’s alive in heaven, which means he’s more fully alive than any of us.
…Santa means Saint. A Saint is someone who has lived a life of heroic virtue. A life worth mimicking. A life worth observing. A life worth learning from. A life that points to Christ.
Saint Nicholas was a 4th century bishop in the Church. And his spirit of giving and serving the poor is worth remembering by re-enacting (and imagining) his life and then learning from it. More importantly, the reason he served the poor and gave of himself so much is because he served Christ at the center of his life.
Excellent points. One colleague of mine has said that having a Santa Claus in church-related activities or schools sends a “mixed message.” I say he’s mistaken. Santa is as Catholic as Catholic can be. I dress as St. Nicholas for our religious ed program every year wearing an actual mitre and crosier and a red cope and a white beard. Nobody’s confused and moreover, even if I wore a jollier version of this costume why wouldn’t we take the time to tell children that story of St. Nicholas?
St. Nicholas also reminds us what we have to be concerned about. After all, the poor that he served, saving women, in particular, is something we should all emulate each day of the year. Let’s remember that St. Nicholas was a Bishop who would throw a gold bar through the window of a poor families home so they would have a dowry for their daughter and to put food on the table. If he didn’t do that that family may have sent the daughter off to be a prostitute. If the family had their window closed…he would literally climb to the roof and drop the gold bar down the…you guessed it…chimney.
So Santa Claus, isn’t just about being good so we can get gifts. Rather it’s about being good because that changes the world and gives people dignity and that doing that is more than gift.
And while the legend has grown to say that Santa sees you when your sleeping and knows when you’re awake. Our question needs to be who do we see when they’re sleeping on the street, or in a shelter? Who do we see awake but trapped in an addiction or can’t get enough money to afford drugs or therapy for their mental illness? Who is awake an lonely in a nursing home or hospital?
The spirit of Santa means being Jesus for others–and it always has been. It is what the original Santa Claus gave to us with his life–so much so that even non-religious people made him into a legend. And yet, that legend sprang from the truth that Jesus preached.
Is Santa real? Indeed he is. He needs to be. Because if the spirit of Santa Claus is dead, then we have no hope for a world that often is too self-centered, too consumeristic. Maybe we need a jolly old guy in a red suit that is larger than life in order to remind us that we need to have a jolly spirit of giving to the poor, of helping those in desperation.
Some say that we need the spirit of Christmas all year long. And indeed we do. In fact, that’s all we need. For Santa, brings us to not merely remember that we are waiting for a baby Jesus. Rather, Santa reminds us that Jesus grew up and showed us how we need to live.
Perhaps Santa is the greatest disciple of them all. After all, I don’t know of another saint that people can recognize as easily.