St Nicholas as Santa Claus
Nuns in France supposedly first began leaving treats on St. Nicholas Eve, December 5th, for the small children of poor families. St. Nicholas’ gifts were usually good things to eat: apples, oranges, nuts and eventually cookies and sweets. The custom quickly spread across Europe and was adopted by both rich and poor.
Children around the world know and love St. Nicholas as someone who brings gifts and treats in December. He is known by different names – and even looks different from place to place. It is said that his image of a fat, jolly fellow in a red suit was actually a result of a Coca Cola® ad in 1931! It is the same St. Nicholas, by whatever name or picture, who is said to delight children with gifts and good things to eat. Nicholas gave in secret, alert to others’ needs, and expecting nothing for himself in return. It is this selfless generosity which seeks only the good of the other that made Nicholas’ gifts the type of gifts that are a pale reflection of the gift God gave us in His Son.
Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.
Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas’ feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor – and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands, St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of his feast day, by sharing candies (thrown in the door), chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint’s horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. As it is told that St. Nicholas arrived in the Netherlands and Belgium on a steamship from Spain, he rode a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. Simple gift-giving in early December helps preserve Christmas Day for celebrating the most important Gift – God’s Gift of the Christ Child (John 3:16).
St. Nick vs. Santa Claus Comparison
So when you see a Santa figure at Christmastime, be sure to share the real story of St. Nick: the man who loved the Lord with all his heart and followed Him faithfully.
Here’s a comparison of the myth and the real man by – J. Rosenthal & C. Myers:
Santa Claus belongs to childhood; St. Nicholas models for all of life.
Santa Claus, as we know him, developed to boost Christmas sales – the commercial Christmas message; St. Nicholas told the story of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all – the hope-filled Christmas message.
Santa Claus encourages consumption; St. Nicholas encourages compassion.
Santa Claus appears each year to be seen and heard for a short time; St. Nicholas is part of the communion of saints, surrounding us always with prayer and example.
Santa Claus flies through the air – from the North Pole; St. Nicholas walked the earth – caring for those in need.
Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem; St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem.
Santa Claus isn’t bad; St. Nicholas is just better.
St Nicholas with the children
Have a very merry & blessed Christmas!
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