Is Santa Claus Christian?
The Origin of Santa Claus and the Christian Response to Him
By Dr. Richard P. Bucher
It's my turn to author an article that claims to penetrate the dark and obscure recesses of the origin of Santa Claus. How shall we understand the Santa Claus phenomenon? Is it pure paganism foisted upon an unsuspecting populace? Is Santa Satan in disguise (there is after all, the same letters in both names, as some guardians of all that is good remind us). Or is Santa a Christian after all, since he really is St. Nicholas, a Christian bishop of the fourth century? So which is it? Is Santa Claus harmless or hellspawn or something in between? Though knowing his origin can't decide all these questions, it still is an important point of departure.
Actually, the truth of the matter is that the modern Santa Claus is a conglomeration of sources, a legendary being that has evolved over the years. Along the way, pre-Christian legends, the story of St. Nicholas, Dutch immigrants to America, Washington Irving, Clement Moore, Thomas Nast, and the Coca-Cola company, all made their contributions.
The Saint Nicholas Connection
It is well known that the name "Santa Claus" comes to us by way of the Dutch "Sinter Klaas," which in turn, was a form of Saint Nicholas. Our modern Santa Claus took his name from the Christian Saint Nicholas so we need to begin with a look at this Christian bishop of the fourth century.
Throughout history Nicholas of Myra (d. 350) has been one of the most beloved saints even apart from the Santa Claus context. In fact, George McKnight claims that both in the eastern and western Church, Nicholas is "the object of extreme veneration, to a degree unequaled in the case of any other saint." The first historical record of his veneration is the fact that the emperor Justinian built a church in his honor in Constantinople around the year 540. Nicholas is the patron saint of entire nations, including Greece, Russia, Sicily, and Lorraine, and many cities throughout Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Holland, and Italy. He is also patron saint of children, bakers, merchants, and mariners.
Ironically, very little factual information is actually known about this most popular saint…
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