Santa Claus has a history all his own.
St. Nicholas of Myra was a Catholic Monk born around 280 A.D. near modern Turkey. His parents died during an epidemic and, obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas gave away his inheritance. He became famous for his generosity and compassion toward children and the sick. He is legendary for his secret gift-giving. In fact, he frequently gave away everything he had!
There are many stories about the good works of St. Nicholas. And while no one knows how much of it is true, we do know that he was a very generous person who’s life has had a significant impact on all of us.
The church began celebrating a feast for St. Nicholas on December the 6th, the date of St. Nicholas’ passing, every year. Over time, Nicholas became the center of of various folk legends related to his giving. By the middle ages, the popularity of St. Nicholas spread to Europe.
In the Netherlands, the Dutch adopted the more friendly spelling “Sinterklaas” and began the tradition of sweets and gifts to children. As people came to “the New World” in the 1700’s so did the story of St. Nicholas and families continued his celebration. Sinterklaas became “Santa Claus.”
In the early 1800’s the New York Historical Society produced wooden cutouts of Nick that hung over fireplaces. Our current images of Santa Claus came from a cartoonist working for Harper’s Weekly magazine based on the poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” In the mid 1800’s people began wearing St. Nick costumes in shops. And by the late 1800’s the Salvation Army was using people dressed as Santa to ring bells and solicit donations in the streets of New York City!
Santa Claus may not be real but the generous spirit of God that lived through St. Nicholas years ago must live on through Jesus’ followers today!
As we celebrate this season of giving, remember this:
“For God loves a person who gives cheerfully. And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.” (2 Corinthians 9:7b-8)