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The Real Santa Claus

Known around the world as Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, and other regional aliases, his most common name, Santa Claus, is derived from his title, Saint Nicholas.  Yes, Santa is a real historical man.  His life was a service to Christ, and his memory illuminates Christ in the world for all time, especially at Christmas.  Nicholas was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Story of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

forensic reconstruction from the bishop's skull
The face of the real Santa Claus,
forensic reconstruction from the bishop's skull
Niikolaos Kilisesi was born around 270 anno Domini, about 1,754 years ago, in Patara, in Greco-Roman Lycia, an area now part of modern-day Muslim Turkey.  His wealthy and pious parents were well past child bearing age.  It is said that they prayed to God for a child in their advanced age, and dedicated this child to the service of God.  Hence the legend of the miraculous birth of the baby son they named Nikolay.  They both died while Nikolay was yet young, leaving him a small fortune, to be raised by the Church.  Nikolay spent most of his life at Myra, now called Demre, Antalya in the warm climate of the southwest coast, where the Church of St. Nikolay stands to this day. Rising quickly through the ranks of the priesthood, Nicholas held the post of Bishop of Myra for most of his life.

As Bish­op of Myra, the charismatic and hum­ble Nicholas participated in the First Ec­um­en­ical Coun­cil at Nicea, which pro­du­ced the Nicean Creed and de­ba­ted many of the pri­mary canons.  A pop­u­lar story reports that the nor­mally jolly exu­be­rant became rarely over­come by anger, cros­sed the floor, and slap­ped Arius, a fel­low theo­lo­gian, in de­fen­ce of the doc­trine of the deity of Jesus the Christ — yes, Santa pointed always to Jesus.  Though seen as a se­cu­lar icon today, Saint Nicholas is in fact re­ve­red as a pa­tron and father of Or­tho­dox faith.

A model Bishop, Nicholas phy­si­cal­ly in­ter­ve­ned to save the lives of the con­dem­ned.  Ac­cor­ding to one fa­mous story, he saved three im­po­ver­ish­ed maidens from a life of pros­ti­tu­tion, by anon­ym­ously pro­vi­ding them with dow­ries, per­mit­ting them to marry.

Children See Christ, and the Love is Mutual

Like Jesus, and John Paul the Great, Ni­cho­las took par­ti­cu­lar joy in chil­dren, they set his face ablaze, and his whole life em­bra­ced them.  A mag­na­ni­mous cham­pion of chil­dren and self­less ge­ne­ro­si­ty, Nich­olas was a gen­uine Chris­tian who loved his neigh­bours, es­pe­ci­al­ly the poor and vul­ne­rable, young and old.

The Christ Life Proclaims and Testifies to the Gospel

The Bishop is re­pu­ted to have had great com­pas­sion for the un­der-pri­vi­le­ged.  He would anony­mously be­stow ge­ne­rous per­so­nal gifts where they would make a dif­fer­ence in the lives of others.  To many Myra re­si­dents, Nich­olas was known as the gift-giver.  Even to­day, the Bish­op in­spi­res an an­nual gift-giving frenzy worth hun­dreds of $bil­lions every Christ­mas.

The Bishop's cha­ri­table phi­lan­thropy co­ver­ed all of the sig­ni­fi­cant bases pre­scribed by scrip­ture.  He foun­ded an or­phan­age, a kit­chen for the poor, a hos­pi­tal for the sick, and a nursing home for the el­der­ly.  The news of his hu­ma­ni­ta­rian be­ne­vo­lence, and his re­pu­ta­tion for wor­king mi­ra­cles, spread far and wide.

The Fictionalization of Santa Clause

The world loves Santa Claus because Old Nick per­so­ni­fied the Christ­mas spi­rit, in godly loving the world every day of his life, and every day since.  A true servant of God, in­dwelt and em­po­we­red by His in­fi­ni­te good­ness, saint Nicho­las was sim­ply too good to be true.  The chal­lenge of his example so intimidating that we nee­ded to turn him into an in­cre­di­ble co­mic car­toon cha­rac­ter, and ba­nish him to the north pole to­gether with elves, dwarves and fairies.

Mixed with an oc­ca­sion­al sprin­kle of child-pleasing ima­gi­na­tion and ma­gi­cal ex­ag­ge­ra­tion, slowly the me­mory of this truly inspirational Turk­ish Bish­op was trans­for­med into the in­ter­na­tion­ally be­lo­ved su­per­hero ubiquitously known as Santa Claus.  To­day, Santa Claus is the euphoric king of Christmas, a mytho­lo­gi­cal play-world to which Dis­ney and Hol­ly­wood an­nual­ly prof­fer hom­age.  This po­pu­lar se­ven­teen hun­dred year old le­gend has a seem­ingly end­less mag­ne­tic at­trac­tion for my­tho­logy.  Fresh myths of­fer­ed up an­nual­ly, ab­so­lu­tely no­thing is too far fetch­ed.

With Christmas, the real Santa Claus is now buried deep under the single high­est Everest of myth and fic­tion ever cre­ated by man­kind.  For the sake of our souls, the world needs Santa to be real, now as much as ever.  Nicholas was post­hu­mous­ly beati­fied by the Church — given the title Saint.  Saint Nicho­las is the pro­tec­tor and patron saint of chil­dren and tra­vel­lers.  Saint Nicho­las Day is on the 6th of De­cem­ber, the day of his pas­sing in 343 an­no Do­mi­ni.

St. Nicholas Center

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