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My favorite legend about Santa Clause originated in AD 325. In that year, there was a man named Arius. Arius defined the Trinity in such a way that the Son, Jesus Christ, was inferior to the Father, created by the Father, and created in the flesh. Emperor Constantine ordered the meeting of a council at Nicaea so that Arius’s claims could be evaluated. As legend goes, Saint Nicholas of Myra, the historical person from whom we have developed the Santa Clause mythology of our day, punched or slapped Arius in the face because of his heresy. Nicholas was arrested for being in contempt and was dishonorably discharged from his office as a bishop in the Holy Roman Empire. After Jesus and Mary visited Saint Nick in his cell and restored him to his office, Rome followed suit. Arius was revealed to be a heretic. The Council of Nicaea resolved that,
What we have undergone — persecutions, afflictions, imperial threats, cruelty from officials, and whatever other trial at the hands of heretics — we have put up with for the sake of the gospel faith established by the 318 fathers at Nicaea in Bithynia. You, we and all who are not bent on subverting the word of the true faith should give this creed our approval. It is the most ancient and is consistent with our baptism. It tells us how to believe in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy Spirit: believing also, of course, that the Father, the Son and the holy Spirit have a single Godhead and power and substance, a dignity deserving the same honour and a co-eternal sovereignty, in three most perfect hypostases, or three perfect persons. So there is no place for Sabellius’s diseased theory in which the hypostases are confused and thus their proper characteristics destroyed. Nor may the blasphemy of Eunomians and Arians and Pneumatomachi prevail, with its division of substance or of nature or of Godhead, and its introduction of some nature which was produced subsequently, or was created, or was of a different substance, into the uncreated and consubstantial and co-eternal Trinity. And we preserve undistorted the accounts of the Lord’s taking of humanity, accepting as we do that the economy of his flesh was not soulless nor mindless nor imperfect. To sum up, we know that he was before the ages fully God the Word, and that in the last days he became fully man for the sake of our salvation.
Needless to say, there are a few legendary aspects of the story—mystical instances that have been added wittingly or unwittingly over time. In the same way, we legendize Spurgeon, King Arthur, Mary, and Babe Ruth. Saint Nick truly did deliver toys to children during his life. Another legend goes that Nicholas saved three young girls from prostitution by secretly and anonymously delivering a gift of gold to their father. Over time, even since these legends were developed, Saint Nick became less and less a representation of the historical, fiery, angry, burdened defender of Biblical truth and more a secular, fat, jolly, deified fiction—even taking on the attributes of omniscience (all-knowledge) and omnibenevolence (all-goodness). He sits on his throne in malls across America judging children based on their moral purity, which is defined by culture—rewarding those boys and girls who have been good. Santa Clause gained his white beard and flying slay because he was being attributed with the characteristics of early pagan deities, like the Roman Saturn and the Norse Odin. By the 1500s, Santa Clause became the icon of idolatry—a blasphemous god taking for himself the attributes and position of Christ. Santa Clause was, by all indication, a secular version of Jesus. During the protestant reformation, Saint Nick fell out of favor with protestant Christians. The reformers had no interest in worshipping idols or legends or whatever Saint Nicholas had become. The historical Saint Nick, who supposedly punched heretics in the face and stood so fiercely upon Biblical foundations, would have hated the way we now caricature him. He would doubtless hate the thrones we erect annually to worship moralism and works-righteousness. He would hate the idol who sits upon them—an idol who causes parents to lose all sensibility, allowing their children to sit on the lap of a stranger in a mask to tell him their every desire…
There are many other idolatrous symbols employed during the Christmas season. Christmas trees were originally used in worship to the Roman god, Saturn. Christians employed their use in order to avoid persecution during their celebration of Christ. The hanging of mistletoe can be traced back to the Druids, who hung the plant in doorways because they believed it possessed the mystical power to ward off evil spirits.
Some of our traditions do not have an idolatrous source. Gift giving is a tradition that comes out of the Saint Nicholas legend; he would give Bibles and share the Gospel. The display of nativities celebrates the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. The singing of Christmas carols developed from the worship of Jesus Christ.
So, should Christians celebrate the Western Holiday? Should they let their children see Santa Clause? Should they put trees in their houses? Should they hang mistletoe? Or, should Christians stop celebrating Christmas and, instead, remember Christ’s birth in the spring—the season during which He was actually born? All I can do Biblically is encourage parents and grandparents not to lie to children as has become common place during this season. Please do not worship idols. We think about what we do and why; each family must follow the convictions of the Holy Spirit. While it will be right for some families not to celebrate the Western version of Christmas, it will be right for some to celebrate. While some feel convicted to reject everything to do with Santa Clause, Christmas Trees, and other icons because of their history, some do not hold this conviction because they have assigned new meaning to the icons.
No matter what, though, let us keep first things first this Christmas. We celebrate Christ. We look to Christ. We honor Christ. We strive to be conformed to the image of Christ. We remember that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. The wages of sin are death. Eternal life is God’s free gift to His people. Whereas Santa Clause is depicted as sitting upon his throne judging the nice and naughty deeds of people, the true God condescended to His people and offers to pay for their sin on their behalf. The story of Christ is opposite of and superior to the legend of Santa. Let us live by faith. Let us not feed our children a false narrative by preaching some sort of works-righteousness at them during this season. If you would like to see what Christ taught about salvation by grace alone through faith alone, click here.