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Friday, December 7, 2007

Santa Claus

                        Santa Claus

Christmas will soon be upon us. That being the case, I thought it might be fun and enlightening to share the story of the real Saint Nicholas. Courtesy of Pastor John Eich, what follows is the story of the real Nicholas, along with Pastor Eich’s personal views in regard to the celebration of Christmas.

"Nicholas was born in AD 270 in the seacoast town of Patara in Asia Minor, which is present day Turkey. His wealthy parents died in a plague while he was little. As he grew older, he traveled and enjoyed using his money to help people. When he was nearly 50 he decided to become a pastor. This is when his story really begins. 

Today doctors wear green, nurses wear white, and football players wear pads, jerseys, and helmets. Ministers at the time of Nicholas wore a uniform too. They wore a long red coat to remind people that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. The stole around the collar was a symbol of the yoke of Jesus, a simple reminder we are all his servants. The hat wasn’t a stocking cap, but a miter symbolizing the helmet of salvation. 

For 22 years Nicholas watched over his church. He loved having children sit on his lap while he told them stories about Jesus. One of his other joys was gift giving. Once a man in his church went bankrupt. In order to pay his bills, the man was going to sell his three beautiful daughters into slavery, a common practice in those days. When Nicholas heard about it, he collected an offering and in the dead of night tossed the bag of gold into an open window in the man’s house. In other cases, if the windows or doors were locked, he would drop the gift down the chimney, which often had stockings hanging nearby to dry from washing. 

Nicholas died in AD 342 on Dec. 6. By then he was well known in the area. Many Christians began to follow his example in Christ and gave gifts to the poor. It became popular to hold a feast and worship service in his memory on Dec. 6. People would dress up like him, hold children on their laps, and give them gifts. 

Nicholas soon became a patron saint, like a sports hero. In Holland the Dutch pronounced his name as Saint Nicklaus. As they came to America and spoke quickly, to the untrained ear it sounded like they were saying "Santa Claus." The Germans, because of the Lutheran Reformation, focused their attention on the Christ child. In German the baby Jesus is called the "Krist Kindle." Again spoken quickly this would sound like "Kris Kringle," which later was applied to the Santa Claus legend because Christmas was celebrated near the time of St. Nicholas’ day. 

The Puritans, however, made it illegal to mention any saint’s name. During the 1600s it was forbidden to light a candle, exchange a gift, or sing carols. Still, people will celebrate what they want. If we don’t teach them how to sing and feast and pretend to the glory of God, then the world will teach them how to do it without glorifying God. That’s what happened to St. Nicholas.
In 1820 a dentist named Clement Moore wrote a poem for his sick child to cheer him up. Called "Twas the night before Christmas," the poem told children that St. Nicholas lived at the North Pole, drove a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer, and had a tummy that shook like a bowl full of jelly. (Actually he was probably thin from fasting.) Forty years later Thomas Nast drew a cartoon picture showing St. Nicholas with a long white beard (probably true), rosy cheeks (probably not), dressed in red (true), and with a sack of toys on his back (probably not, since the people needed money and food more). 

Parents should be aware that fostering a belief in the Santa Claus of today may backfire later. A child looks to parents to furnish everything -- food, comfort, courage, and truth. When a parent says, "Yes, there really is a Santa Claus, and his reindeer can really fly," he is no longer playing a game. That parent is lending his personal authority as a parent to the myth, giving it the ring of truth. 

What happens later to a parent’s credibility when the child finds out that the story isn’t true? Maybe the other things a parent has said about safety, moral values, right or wrong aren’t true either. 

If you once believed in a man who knew what you were doing, who had amazing abilities, and who gave you nice things, and he turned out to be a fake, why should you believe in another man who knows what you are doing, has amazing abilities, gives you nice things -- Jesus Christ? 

If you get burned once, why get burned the second time? Wouldn’t it be better to be honest with our children right from the start, and teach them the difference between truth and make-believe?
Some people love Santa Claus so much that they forget about Jesus. Some churches burn the present day Santa Claus in effigy. Both extremes are too much. It’s better to remember the real Nicholas, who can serve as an example of how to really keep Christmas. 

Don’t think "Look what the world is coming to." Rather think "Look who’s coming into the world!" 

A little girl was once asked, "What is a saint?" Thinking of the heroes of faith who are pictured in stained glass windows she answered, "A saint is someone who lets the light in." That’s how we best perhaps can use the myths about Santa Claus. Let’s use them to let the "light in," Jesus Christ the light of the world. Let’s keep Santa Claus always kneeling at the manger of his Savior and ours. Merry CHRISTmas!"

Thank you, Pastor Eich, for enlightening us in regard to the origin of Santa Claus. And let me take this opportunity to wish each of you a joyous Christmas celebration.

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