Four years ago, my daughter Hannah came to me and said that she wanted to know the truth about "the man with the reindeer sled". Two years later, I had the exact same conversation with my son Duncan. For some parents and children, the "Santa Claus talk" can be a traumatic experience, but it doesn't have to be. You see, Santa Claus IS real: he is just not exactly as popular culture has portrayed him.
Our culture has adopted a view of Santa Claus as he has been presented in Clement C. Moore's poem, The Night Before Christmas, published in 1822. It was Moore's depiction of Santa that inspired artist Haddon Sundblom to draw our modern image of Santa Claus for a Coca-Cola advertisement for a 1931 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. But Santa wasn't a "jolly old elf" at all; he was a bishop of the Christian Church: a man who loved Jesus and loved children.
"Santa Claus" is actually a nickname for Saint Nicholas. Nicholas (March 15, 270 - December 6, 343) was the bishop of Myra, a town in modern-day Turkey. Nicholas was a generous man and was concerned about the poor in his community. Tradition tells us that Bishop Nicholas became concerned about the welfare of three young girls in one of his parishes. Their father was so impoverished that he considered selling the girls into slavery to make ends meet. Wishing to save the girls, Nicholas went to their house in secret and put coins in the girls' stockings as they hung overnight by the fire to dry. The gifts given to the girls by Nicholas rescued them from slavery. When Nicholas died on December 6, 343, Christians began giving one another gifts in his honor. That is why we give gifts to each other at Christmas today!
In 325, Nicholas was one of bishops that the Roman Emperor Constantine invited to the First Church Council of Nicaea. At the Council, Nicholas defended orthodox Christian beliefs against the Arian heresy - a teaching that stated that Jesus was not fully God. Also at Nicaea, Nicholas helped to write the Nicene Creed - a definitive statement of the Christian faith that is still recited in churches today.
We owe a lot to Saint Nicholas. He was a man who loved Jesus, who served and defended the Church, and who was concerned about the next generation of Christians. So when the time comes, don't be distressed about having the "Santa Claus talk" with your children and grandchildren. Use it as an opportunity to teach them about Christian virtue, church history, and a great Christian man who lived out his faith in Jesus. Merry Christmas to all!
The True Story of Saint Nicholas, by Rebecca Benson Haskell, Amazon Link, is a great little book that was very helpful in our family.