Mark Hart

Do You Believe in Santa?: The Real Story of St. Nicholas

Okay, it's Advent, which means it's story time! So let's sit back and review, shall we?

God, the Creator of all creation, became human? In fact, He not only became human, but became a needy, delicate, vulnerable baby? And not only was He a baby, but a baby born to poor, lower middle class parents? And as if that weren't enough, He wasn't even given a room or a home or a bed? Does that seem too much to believe? Seem too far-fetched and ridiculous? Have a hard time putting your faith in such a 'figure?' Many do.

For some folks, the simple yet unfathomable facts surrounding the birth of Jesus are just 'too much' to comprehend. So, rather than meditate on them in prayer, they reduce the nativity story to just that . . . a story. Sad, but true.

Well, let's take a look at another story … another historical fact … that you may or may not know.

Let me tell you about Nick

It's intriguing that so many people in our culture can put their 'faith' in Santa Claus but consider the story of Jesus to be a fabrication. In fact, many people don't even realize that the Santa story is an extension and exaggeration of a great saint … Nicholas.

St. Nicholas was born in (what is now) Turkey in 280 AD and died on December 6th, 343. He led a difficult life beginning with being orphaned at the age of nine. He went on to study philosophy and Christian doctrine (no, not toy engineering) and was considered quite an outspoken troublemaker by Emperor Diocletian, who wanted him to stop preaching Christianity. He would be jailed not once, but twice for his evangelization and eventually be named a Bishop of the church early in the fourth century. (Yes, that's right 'Kris Kringle' had a criminal record.)

Nicholas was known for his generosity. As tradition goes, he was so selfless that (although he, too, was poor) he helped his likewise poor neighbor support and pay for his daughters' weddings. Nicholas snuck up to his neighbor's house at night and dropped a handful of gold coins through the open window so that the eldest daughter could afford to get married. He would later repeat the generous act two more times. From there, the Santa legend grew into what we now know today – stockings, chimneys, a belly like jelly and all that good stuff.

The real, 'true life' story of St. Nicholas, though, is one of suffering, simplicity, generosity and humility. The nativity of Jesus is the same kind of story. Both were unseen by millions, but both are true.

Both stories have changed our modern world, but only one opened the gates of Heaven.

Salvation > Gifts

The truth of what God did, by becoming man, is a story that isn't sensational enough for some. How that is, I'm not sure. Still, the Christmas story of Jesus' birth has all the beauty, intrigue and heroism that we seek. That being said, it still requires faith and an open heart to accept it.

Some people get more caught up with the star in the sky, than the one in the manger. Many would rather read their futures in the stars in the Heavens, than in Heaven itself. Don't ever get so comfortable with the popular notion of Jesus 'the good person' that you lose the truth of the story of Christ.

He is Jesus, your Lord and Savior.

He is God, and He came down here for you.

St. Nicholas, while a holy, virtuous and courageous man, was still just a man. And Santa's magic, though it might warm the heart of a scrooge, cannot turn a heart to God or save their soul. Make no mistake, both stories have a happy 'ending,' one with gifts under a tree and the other with the gift of salvation Who hung on a tree but rose again. The question is how and where you want your story to end?

Our ancestors, our brothers and sisters in the faith, knew the power of a good story. They also knew the importance of discerning which stories they handed on to their children and in what manner. As we see in the following Psalm:

'Attend, my people, to my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in story, drawing lessons from of old. We have heard them, we know them; our ancestors have recited them to us. We do not keep them from our children; we recite them to the next generation…' Psalm 78:1-4

They took seriously their need to pass along the truths of faith in their stories, not just stories for the sake of entertainment. To do so was to follow the commands of God, not to do so was to muffle God's voice to a young generation in need of it.

Society knows that a special day is coming. That fact is clear. Why the day is special, however, and how it affects their earthly lives and their eternal life . . . that is the rest of the story.

St. Nicholas’ feast day is celebrated December 6th. St. Nicholas, pray for us!

Mark Hart

About the Author

My childhood plan was to be a jedi. My teenage plan was to be on Saturday Night Live. God's plan was to have me in ministry. God won - and I'm glad He did.