The Values of Saint Nicholas

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This Sunday, December 6th, we celebrate the Feast of Saint Nicholas, one of the most beloved saints around the world, and with good reason. In research for my children’s book, The Cure for the Christmas Crazies, I found these stories to be most notable:

  • His wealthy parents died when he was young, and he devoted his inheritance to helping the sick and the poor.
  • He became the bishop of Myra (now part of modern day Turkey) when he was still a young man.
  • During a period of persecution of the faithful, he was imprisoned.
  • There have been many stories told of Saint Nicholas coming to the rescue of children.
  • He is named the patron saint of more causes than any other saint, most well-known for that of children, sailors, the falsely-accused and repentant prisoners.

For centuries Saint Nicholas has been admired as the friend and protector of those in need. It truly breaks my heart to see the way retailers misrepresent his identity as Santa Claus, shown pushing a shopping cart through a Kmart commercial. But I also love all the wonder and excitement that Santa Claus brings to the season. I’ll even dare to say that it’s good for children to believe in him. Whenever I’m pondering what it means to have faith, my own childhood memories of Santa Claus actually help me to recall what it was like to innocently “accept like a child,” as stated in Mark 10:15.

Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.

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But still, Santa Claus remains “the red-and-white elephant in the room.” How can we celebrate the birth of our Lord without letting Santa Claus steal the show? Of course we need to keep Christ at the center of all our holiday activities, but in addition to that, I think another solution is to honor the original Saint Nicholas and all that he stood for. I wrote The Cure for the Christmas Crazies to do just that, plus help Santa Claus maintain his Christian roots.

When it comes to talking about the history of Saint Nicholas with children they automatically associate him with Santa Claus because of our culture. You don’t have to connect the dots between the historical and modern times — somehow their amazing imaginations do that easily. My book includes a brief history of the life of Saint Nicholas and how he is celebrated around the world, but doesn’t mention anything that would conflict with the legend of Santa Claus.

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The story that follows portrays Santa Claus with the same faithful heart and generous spirit as Saint Nicholas. It also makes the point that Santa is forgiving. We all know that even “nice” children are “naughty” sometimes, but Santa brings gifts anyway. That’s a lesson in forgiveness that kids can easily understand. (and remember—patron saint of repentant prisoners)

Letting kids see that Santa is forgiving does not let them off the hook with their behavior, but rather helps them appreciate and practice that same value. Just as being saved by grace does not give us free reign to sin, but instead inspires us to let God’s goodness shine through us. I like this message much better than telling kids to be good so they can get lots of presents, which is basically teaching them to ask “what’s in it for me?”

As long as there is this association between Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus in our culture, I think it’s only fitting that we teach our children to make a clear connection between that persona and the celebration of the birth of Jesus. To neglect this would be a disservice to children and to the true role model who dedicated his life to serving our Lord.

In my book The Cure for the Christmas Crazies, Santa Claus encourages children to offer kindness to others as gifts to the baby Jesus. Santa has lots of other positive messages to help kids enjoy our modern traditions while keeping Christ at the heart of everything. My hope is to help children perceive Santa Claus as a Christian, whether they encounter him later in a secular book, on TV or in person. The book is available at my website Have a blessed Christmas!

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