The Real St. Nicholas
This devotional was written by Jim Liebelt Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. —1 Corinthians 11:1
Many families choose not to include Santa Claus as a part of their Christmas celebrations. The legend of Santa, the North Pole, flying reindeer, keeping naughty and nice lists, and coming down the chimney can seem as just too much distraction from the true meaning of Christmas for many Christian families. But, whatever your family chooses to do with Santa Claus, it may be worthwhile to consider the historical St. Nicholas.
"Nicholas lived long ago, in the third century, in a place called Asia Minor, what is now the country of Turkey. His parents died from an illness while Nicholas was a teenager and left him a large inheritance of money. Nicholas' parents taught him about Jesus. As he grew older, he followed the teachings of Jesus and sold all his possessions, secretly giving money to those in need.
"Nicholas became well-loved by the people and later became the Bishop of Myra. He died on December 6, 343 A.D. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration in his honor, called St. Nicholas Day. On this day, children would give and receive small gifts of candy, chocolate initial letters, or riddles hidden in baked goods or in elaborate packaging. Children also hung stockings by the fire or placed shoes filled with carrots and hay for the horse, eagerly awaiting gifts from St. Nicholas. Gold balls or oranges were given to represent the gifts of gold once given by St. Nicholas."1
Influenced by St. Nicholas' popularity in Europe, immigrants brought his story and tradition to America. Over the years, legend was wedded to historical elements and developed into our modern day Santa Claus.
While we celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus, we can have an appropriate appreciation for the lives He has touched. This includes those whose lives demonstrated compassion and selflessness out of their love for Jesus. St. Nicholas was such a person.
- What is your family's approach on Santa Claus as part of your Christmas celebrations? Why?
- How might considering the historical St. Nicholas actually add to your family's Christmas celebration rather than distract from it?
Even if Santa Claus isn't part of your family's Christmas celebrations, it's certain that they will be exposed to images and messages of Santa (television, movies, stores, decorations, family traditions) during the holiday season. At an appropriate point, use the content above to engage your family in a discussion about the historical St. Nicholas and the wonderful example he set as a follower of Jesus. As a family, show some compassion and selflessness by choosing someone (perhaps someone needy) and decide on a meaningful gift you can give this person for Christmas. Together, deliver the gift to this person.
1The Real Santa Claus: The Wonderful Story of St. Nicholas by Jim Burns and Leslie Snyder.