Today, on December 6th, 343 A.D., a great man passed away and a wonderful tradition was born. Known only as Nicolas, this man grew up to be the most generous man history would ever know. Born in 280 A.D., Nicolas lived in affluence and had a strong Christian background. At the age of 16, both parents died and a very young Nicolas inherited a fortune. However, instead of spending it like most teenagers would, Nicolas traveled the country of what is now Italy, secretly giving away his fortune to those in need, especially children.
Although generous, Nicolas had this strange quirk about the way he gave his gifts, he didn’t want anyone to know who their benefactor was. Kind of like Mr. Tipton in the old show “The Millionaire,” Nicolas went to great lengths to keep his generosity a secret. But alas, one night he got busted.
Nicolas had heard of a farmer who had been robbed. Now, the farmer’s 3 daughter’s no longer had dowries. You see, back then, ladies of marrying age needed dowries if they were going to attract “desirable” men. Without them, some would resort to prostitution rather than marry a slug. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. Upon hearing about the farmer and his daughter’s problem, Nicolas decided to help. For 2 nights in a row he’d walk past the open window of the farmer’s house and toss in a bag of gold. The farmer was ecstatic, but curious as to who was doing this. So, on the 3rd night, he hid outside to find out. As Nicolas strode past the window with the bag of gold in his hand and his armed cocked, the farmer jumped out in front of him with a big “AH -HA!” Nicolas froze, smiled and tossed the bag through the window. Strangely enough, it landed inside one of the daughter’s stocking that was hung on the fire place mantel to dry. Boy did that ever start a tradition! Nicolas asked the farmer to promise he’d never tell anyone who gave him the gold, but I suppose the farmer must have been a blabbermouth, because it wasn’t long before stories of Nicolas’ generosity spread across the land like wild fire.
Soon, the good folks of Myra decided to elected him as their new Bishop and Nicolas spent the rest of his natural life helping and giving. By the year 450 A.D., churches in Asia Minor were being named after him and by the 800’s, he had been officially recognized as a Saint by the Eastern Catholic Church. In the 1200’s, December 6th began to be celebrated as Bishop Nicolas Day in France. By the 1400’s, Saint Nicolas was considered the most beloved religious figure after Jesus and Mary, with more than 2000 Chapels and Monasteries named in his honor.
As time moseyed on, stories from other countries became “blended” with the historical facts about the real Nicolas. Like a game of “Pass It On,” each country would add their own tale about the generous Saint. Even his name became “skewed.” In the Dutch language, the name “Saint Nicolas” translates into “Sinter Klass,” which soon became “Santa Klass” and finally “Santa Claus.” Add a poem in 1823, by Clement Clark More, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” now better known as “The Night Before Christmas,” a portrait published in 1863 by Harper’s Weekly, drawn by a political cartoonist named Thomas Nast, and whammo, you have a new holiday tradition.
Ah yes, I’m talking about our wonderful and beloved Santa Claus. To me, Santa is like a Super-Hero. I know, I know, we’re supposed to be celebrating the birth of Christ who is also a Super-Hero. I DO get that. But Santa has been as much a part of that wonderful story of our Savior as Jesus. In my mind, Santa is a “gateway” to the story of Jesus.
With Santa, children are introduced to the concept of generosity. They become familiar with how it feels to receive, but as they get older, they’ll naturally become curious about the other side of the transaction, how it feels to give. This is where Santa steps off and Jesus comes in. Giving is what Jesus is all about as He gave us the most precious gift of all – salvation. So, I’ve never had a problem with mixing-up Santa and Jesus on the same holiday. I believe each holds a firm place behind the meaning of the tradition, so much so, I wrote a script about it.
It’s called “The Book of Santa.” The story of two best friends, Jesus and Nicolas, and how that friendship led Nicolas to become Santa Claus.
Click on Scripts to read the story.