Was the Real St. Nick Better than Santa Claus?
How did he move from being "St. Nicholas" to being "Santa Claus"?
His association with children is a much later development. There is a story that arose in the Middle Ages about him saving three youths from death: Three young children go into an evil inn-keeper's inn and are butchered and pickled in barrels, and then Nicholas comes along and restores them to life. It's with that story that his association with children begins.
Given this rich history, should Christians continue to play the charade with their children about Santa Claus bringing gifts?
I resonate with that concern. But at Christmas, we have an opportunity to highlight a core Christian value, which is loving our neighbors. By highlighting St. Nicholas, we can recover an alternative to commercialization and greed, celebrating the life of a true Christian example, who gave of his own, who helped the less fortunate, and who shared the love of Christ.
When it comes to telling children about Santa Claus, we tell our daughter the truth: That there was a good pastor who existed many years ago and did many wonderful things, and that mommies and daddies like to carry on his tradition by giving secret gifts to their children. I certainly don't blame parents for wanting to play along with Santa, but I think you can do it just as well and enrich the season by telling the truth about Santa Claus and St. Nicholas.
What's the future for Santa Claus—and St. Nicholas?
The 20th century has been Santa Claus's century. You think about how popular Santa Claus has been—the number of movies and TV shows, and his ubiquitous presence in people's yards, in their homes, and in shopping malls. But I think people are ready for something more substantial. The original person is much more interesting, because he was real and his deeds are based on goodness rather than on greed and acquisition. I think that we'll see a revival of St. Nicholas's traditions and practices that incorporate this true and historical person into our holiday season.