St. Nicholas and Santa Claus, despite popular belief, are not the same person. The importance lies in recognizing that St. Nicholas was an actual person, a human being, who was born in the 3rd century; whereas, Santa Claus is a mythical “right jolly old elf,” as Clement Moore wrote in, “Twas The Night Before Christmas.”
Bennett, in his book, The True Saint Nicholas, gives a very good account of the life of this great Saint. He was born in Lycia, in what is now the country of Turkey, in the year A.D. 280.
The most famous story tells of his generosity in helping a father with his daughters. Bennett retells the story by recalling how a certain father in poverty could not afford the dowries to marry his three daughters. Due to this circumstance, he was being forced to sell them into slavery. Upon hearing of this, St. Nicholas, decided to gather up alms for each daughter and on three different nights he secretly dropped a bag of money into the window of the house, one bag for each daughter. Eventually the father, wanting to find out who dropped the bags of money through the window, stayed up and discovered that it was the Bishop Nicholas. The father was asked by St. Nicholas to keep his act a secret, but obviously, the father was unable to do so. Soon the name of Nicholas was heard all over, as a very loving and generous bishop.
Historically, St. Nicholas is an actual person, then who exactly is Santa Claus?
Gerry Bowler, in his book, Santa Claus: A Biography, suggests, “the figure who had recently been described by Clement Clarke Moore as “a peddler just opening his pack” was a natural choice as a salesman…who better to bring together sellers and consumers than Santa Claus?”
The ultimate irony is the fact that Haddon Sundblom, whom Coca-Cola hired to develop advertising images of Santa Claus, actually modeled him after his friend, Lou Prentiss, who was a retired salesman.
Given the life of St. Nicholas versus the stories of Santa Claus, I personally think the preference goes to St. Nicholas, given his life oriented towards God, and being an actual bishop in the Church. Unfortunately, from a social perspective, Santa Claus takes the lead. The image of Santa stands for consumerism and materialism, inducing people to buy things.
Bowler mentions, “His [Santa Claus] success at this [consumerism] has helped to remove Christmas from the realm of Christianity and make it into a mere secular, cultural tradition in which folk of all religions can participate: the only requirement for initiation is to spend money on cards, ornaments, trees, and gifts. Though Santa Claus might appear as a figure of benevolence and grace, his love is actually conditional and reveals that this new religion of consumerism has an ancient superstition at its core: that the gods show their favor by material blessings.”
The ultimate question is: What do you want to pass along to your children?
Images of Saints, like St. Nicholas, who model selflessness? Or a mythical overweight elf with flying reindeer who models selfishness?
St. Nicholas is the model of a true Christian life, unlike the life of Santa Claus.
A wonderful website, dedicated to discovering the truth about Santa Claus and the life of St. Nicholas states, as “a bishop, Nicholas put Jesus Christ at the center of his life, his ministry, his entire existence.”
When it comes to children, the importance of teaching them about St. Nicholas during the Christmas season is paramount and a far better choice than playing into the American consumerism of Santa Claus.
In the end, St. Nicholas is the utmost exemplar for children and adults in regards to love, compassion, and giving. And unlike Santa Claus…
St. Nicholas actually lived on this earth, as a Bishop, caring for the poor and needy.