Thursday, December 07, 2006

St. Nicholas (a day late)

I was out of town yesterday and so missed St. Nicholas' Day. I suggested to a co-worker recently that Santa Claus has long since escaped from Christmas, thus making him a safe character for pluralistic settings, but really he still has a lot of potential as a proclaimer of the Christian message, besides which the historical St. Nicholas is a really neat guy.

A couple of years ago I was in Russia on a business trip. One of my Russian co-workers, Eugene (Evgeny), took a group of us around town to visit various tacky knick-knack shops and such things. After visiting a number of stores I noticed that there was one particular icon that I kept seeing. I asked Eugene who it was. Eugene, who is Christian, took a glance and said, "Oh, that's probably Holy Nicholas." I about fell over. It was the middle of June and Santa Claus was all over Russia.

But in America, the good bishop has what I would consider a bit of an image problem. Every year the horrid claymation story purporting to tell children Santa Claus' origins gets under my skin. St. Nicholas has a really interesting history. Why did the makers of the wretched "Santa Claus is Comin' To Town" feel the need to invent a new history? Was is because they wanted to help Santa escape from Christmas?

This year, I got some unexpected help bringing Santa back into the Christian fold for my family. My wife has been looking for a Christmas puzzle. Yesterday, she picked up a puzzle called St. Nicholas in His Study. The picture has a fairly American Santa, but he's surrounded by images linking him to the saint of Christian tradition. The back of the box relates the story of St. Nicholas, explaining the various symbols.


Brian said...

I think the problem is that our Santa Claus is an intermingling of several stories, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, and Sinter Klaas. The intermingling moves us away from the stories of the bishop who anonymously provides three bags of gold so that young women are not sold into prostitution (kind of hard to make THAT sell toys after all!).

We celebrate St. Nicholas day in our house and the kids hear the story of Saint Nicholas. Thus when Christmas comes, they know that gifts from St. Nick have already come, and Santa becomes less and less important.

My favorite story of SN is the slapping of Arias at the Council of Nicea. St. Nicholas, Defender of Orthodoxy!

There is a cool recording of Legends of St. Nicholas by Anonymous 4 at emusic. Very cool!


Andy said...

I love the story about Arius. I had heard it as a punch. Either way, you don't mess with St. Nick.

Tom in Ontario said...

Oh don't be such a party poopin' Scrooge. Santa Claus is Coming to Town is a part of my childhood and I watch it with my kids and it's just fun. Now we all know the reindeer fly because of Winter Warlock's magic corn. C'mon!

Andy said...

Well my kids did watch it, and I think I've only subjected them to a small amount of griping. But I really think it's really a terrible show.