Friday, May 2, 2014

A Christian's Perspective on Santa Claus

Santa Claus is a divisive issue among many Christians. Some Christians see Santa Claus as harmless fun for children. Some see him as a fabrication of Satan used to deceive little ones away from the truth. And still some say that while there is nothing wrong per se with having Santa Claus appear at a party and ask children about what they want for gifts, there should be clarification as to whether Santa Claus is real or not.

My view of this is that while children should recognize that Santa Claus is not a real character, there is nothing sinful about enjoying his depiction in cinema, literature, TV, or in any other area. There is also nothing sinful about dressing up as Santa Claus or inviting a fake Santa over to one's Christmas party or event.

But still, we must keep in mind that we ought to be telling the truth (Colossians 3:9), for if we lie, and if we don't clarify it, then kids might be deceived into thinking Santa Claus is real when he is not (though I will submit that there is room for debate among Christians as to whether letting kids believe in Santa is a deadly lie or not).

Having said that, however, we could do well by looking into how the Santa Claus stories came to be, that in fact they were ultimately based off a real person in a real setting.

Saint Nicholas: The "Original Santa Claus"

Many have noted that Santa Claus's possible origins might lie in the Greek bishop Saint Nicholas (270-343), who was the Bishop of Myra in Lycia. He was known for many things, including his famed miracles attributed to his intercessions, the most iconic trait of his was his secret gift-giving. Many have gone into further detail about his great acts and his childhood, so I will not do this here. But I will note his most famous act. A poor man had three daughters, and he lacked the proper dowry for a wedding. This would mean that due to their poverty, the daughters might resort to prostitution to receive money. So Nicholas saw this and wanted to help them. However, due to the fact that the poor man might be humiliated at the thought of receiving charity and that Nicholas didn't want to look like one drawing attention onto oneself (Matthew 6:1), he decided to give secretly (Matthew 6:3-4), and in the night he threw three purses of gold coins through the window of the house. There are many variations of this tale, but one thing remains clear: the secret charity of St. Nicholas was so memorable that later it influenced other depictions of Santa Claus either indirectly or directly.

How Did Santa Claus Come About?

But since we had the original St. Nicholas, why couldn't we have him? Why did we choose Santa Claus? The reason is a little bit complicated. Let us turn to Mark Driscoll and see how he explains this:
During the Reformation, however, Nicholas fell out of favor with Protestants, who did not approve of canonizing certain people as saints and venerating them with holidays. His holiday was not celebrated in any Protestant country except Holland, where his legend as Sinterklass lived on. In Germany, Martin Luther replaced him with the Christ child as the object of holiday celebration, or, in German, Christkindl. Over time, the celebration of the Christ child was simply pronounced Kris Kringle and oddly became just another name for Santa Claus.
And then again, the common tale of Santa Claus might have originated from folk tales from various cultures (some of which came from the legends of Saint Nicholas) that have been brought to America by Dutch immigrants. While there are commonly held legends, there is not one official interpretation of Santa Claus (though some could count L. Frank Baum's rendition of the Santa Claus story to be a definitive version of the American Santa Claus we all know and love). There are many varieties of this character, such as Father Christmas from England, Sinterklaas and other variations. However, these traditions all center around one jolly old man who brings joy throughout the Christmas season (or winter holidays).

What Should The Christian Think About All This?

I have given a historical perspective on St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, and now I will explore how Christians should react to it.

I said before that Christians should not be dishonest in dealing with this issue, especially when it comes to children. However, as long as Santa Claus does not replace Jesus Christ as the center of Christmas, there is nothing wrong with enjoying this tradition. And it would be helpful in telling the story of St. Nicholas and how it relates to Christianity and to Santa Claus.