The Real Santa Claus

By Dr. Augustine Thomas

Reconstructed face

St. Nicholas’ face from forensic reconstruction 2004

St. Nicholas is one of the most revered saints by all Christians. We celebrate his memory on December 6th each year. He was only a bit over five feet (1.52 meters) tall and had his nose broken at some point in his life. His face and brow were broken by men torturing him for his faith in Christ. Though he must have been in terrible pain but he never recanted Jesus. This diminutive man has impacted our lives significantly because of his deep faith in Christ. 

He was from Myra (modern Demre) in what is now Turkey. He was ordained a priest by his uncle, the bishop of Myra and later became the bishop, himself. He was one of the prominent bishops at the 1st Ecumenical Council of the Church in Nicea, called to combat the Arian heresy. Therefore, he was active during the forming of the Nicene Creed we confess each Sunday. 

While he was bishop, he purposely used church money to help others, rather than spending it on himself or on a lavish lifestyle. He started going around secretly and for every poor person that left their shoes outside he would put a coin inside of them. He followed Jesus’ commands to give without expecting anything in return, to remember the poor and needy, and to not let anyone know what you are doing when you do good deeds. He also took church money to help some women who were poor and had no dowries. Without them they could not marry and might have had to resort to prostitution to survive. Over the course of three years, as each came of age, he would slip a bag of money into the house by the chimney. The final time, the father was waiting and discovered it was St. Nicholas. After that, the entire city knew who had been secretly doing all of the good deeds. These deeds became the format for the modern Santa Claus.

Once there was a famine in the city. A ship stopped on the way to the capital with a cargo of grain for the emperor. St. Nicholas entreated the sailors to off load a lot of it so the city would not starve. The sailors were afraid the government would go after them, but Bp. Nicholas told them they would not suffer loss. They off loaded enough to feed the town for two years and to plant crops. When the sailors arrived at Constantinople, they discovered their holds were full as if they had not off loaded any grain at all! This was spread around about Bp. Nicholas, but all he would say to anyone was that all thanks should be given to God and not to himself. 

We celebrate this man’s life at this time of year (December 6) because he is an example of God who gives to us who are poor and needy. God sent his Only-Begotten Son Jesus Christ as the gift of gifts for we who were in need of saving. St. Nicholas reflected his Savior and so let us imitate him in his life and good works all through the coming year.

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