The real Santa Claus was Catholic?

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By Monsignor Jorge de los Santos

Around this time of year, it’s common to see the Christmas celebration filled with marketing and consumerism, opening its doors to its employee of the month: “Santa Claus.” Christmas is the feast of the birth of the Son of God made man, but every year, Catholics face the challenge of trying to catch Jesus from the midst of so many parties, meals, presents, ornaments, responsibilities, etc.

Santa Claus is really St. Nicholas of Bari (or Myra), a fourth-century Catholic bishop in Turkey. (“Santa Claus” comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, which means “St. Nicholas.”) Here are some aspects of the legend surrounding the saint that inspired the famous figure of Santa.

St. Nicholas of Bari was born in 310 A.D., in a time of persecution, in which the teachings of Christ were believed to oppose those of the Roman Empire. St. Nicholas’ parents were wealthy people and had instilled in their son a spirit of generosity, among other virtues. On one occasion, this would lead him to exchange his horse for a slave in an auction, so he could free him. He carried out all his works of charity in the name of Jesus, which led many to convert to Christianity with his example. After his parents died when he was still a young man, he began giving even more generously to those in need.

It’s said that on another occasion, he learned of three young women who wanted to marry, but whose father didn’t have the necessary means to marry them. When Nicholas found out, pretending to do a work of charity without being noticed, he dropped a few golden coins down the chimney, which coincidentally fell in the sewn cotton stockings the young ladies had left drying. This is the origin of the common practice of hanging stockings by the chimney and receiving gifts in them.

In St. Nicholas’ time, the emperor Diocletian ordered the eradication all Christians. It was around this time that St. Nicholas became bishop. In the midst of the persecution, he is said to never have lost his good sense of humor and joy, especially when talking with children about the birth of Jesus — thus Santa’s love for children and his “ho, ho, ho.”

In one of the persecutions, he was captured and imprisoned for almost 30 years. From his cell, he kept growing in holiness and prayed for the Church, even as the prison guards taunted him, telling him that the Christian faith was over.

When Constantine, the emperor of Rome, converted to Christianity, Bishop Nicholas was finally released. Now an old man with long hair and a white beard, he returned to his city to start the Church of Christ once again, convinced he was the only believer left.

His surprise was great when he arrived at the city and saw that the Cathedral had been rebuilt. He walked in to a singing choir — Christmas was being celebrated. Thus, his ties to Christmas.

To give a deeper meaning to this tradition, we must promote St. Nicholas’ example, who teaches us to be generous, to give to those in need and have a deep love for our neighbor. He teaches us to be attentive to the needs of others, to turn away from our selfishness, and to detach ourselves not only of material things, but also of our own selves and our time.

Nonetheless, with all of this in mind, the heart of Christmas is still the child Jesus, who is the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary in a stable in Bethlehem for the salvation of all peoples.

COMING UP: Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila issues statement on death of George Floyd

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Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila has issued the following statement on the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests in Minneapolis, Denver, and cities across the United States:

“The death of George Floyd this past Monday was horrifying for any person of good will. The inhumane action of one police officer has impacted the entire country and caused undue damage. Racism has no place in the Gospel message or any civil society.

The Catholic Church has always promoted a culture of life, but too often our society has lost its sense of the dignity of every human being from the time of conception until natural death. Every Catholic has a responsibility to promote the dignity of life at every level of life. Too many have made their god their ideology, political party, or the color of their skin, and not the Gospel of Life and the dignity of every human being.

The outrage around the death of George Floyd is understandable and justice must be served.

Yet the violence that we have seen throughout the streets of Denver and other cities in our country only ​advances a culture of death and hatred. Violence against innocent people has no place in a civil society and must come to an end.

I encourage the faithful of the archdiocese to examine our consciences on how we promote a culture of life on all levels, to pray for the conversion of hearts of those who promote racism, to pray that our society may return to a culture of life, and finally and most importantly​, to pray for the repose of the soul of George Floyd, for his family in their loss, and that justice may be served in his case.”

(Featured image by Apu Gomes/Getty Images)