Christ vs. Claus?
The Merrie Theologiane loves the odd bit of art. In this Christmas card for the Skinny Magazine, artist Nick Cocozza imagines the greatest head to head “in all history” – the patron saint of Xmas, who leads his devotees in a pilgrimage of Coca Cola consumerism each ‘winter holiday’, against baby Jesus (now grown up), the one who bangs on about the real meaning of Christmas (virgins, mangers, angels, wise men, asses, etc.). Just do a bit of letter jiggling, and it’s clear that Santa is Jesus’ sworn enemy! Right? Wrong!
If Santa and Jesus met (and most surely they already have!), Santa would be very much on Jesus’ side! The real Santa, is a great Hebrews 11 style witness to help us celebrate the coming of the Saviour of the world at Christmas time. Santa Claus/Sinterklaas/Saint Nicholas was a bishop in south eastern Turkey in the fourth century. Gift-giving, stockings, generosity, chimneys, being nice to children, bags of chocolate coins, all have their origins in the life and legends of old St. Nick.
The stories surrounding St. Nicholas – of selfless generosity and care for the poor (and the odd miracle!) – give us a glimpse of a man who was a great example of love for Jesus producing love for neighbour. So Claus and Christ are no enemies. But there was another occasion on which Santa Nicholas gave evidence of his great love for Jesus – and this one did involve some boxing…
Bishop Nicholas was one of the 318 in attendance at the famous Council of Nicaea in 325AD, from which we get our Nicene Creed. There was great controversy because Arius, a priest from Alexandria, was arguing that, though Jesus was fully human, he was not fully divine. On hearing Arius’ denigrating of Christ, ‘jolly old St. Nick’ got up and gave him a good slap round the chops! The rest of the council agreed with Nicholas, and Arius was condemned a heretic, but Father Christmas found himself behind bars for the night!
So you see Christ vs. Claus is really very far from reality – and we should reclaim this great prize fighter of the faith for the Lord he loved! Gene Edward Veith suggests we need to tweak the Lapland mythology to suit this end: “Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean.” And maybe we need some new songs and TV shows too: "’Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap,’ ‘Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly,’ ‘Frosty the Gnostic,’ ‘How the Arian Stole Christmas,’ ‘Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus.’"
So when you’re writing your letters to Santa this year, remember that a very very long time ago, he wrote one to you:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father;
By whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth;
Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man;
He suffered, and the third day he rose again, ascended into heaven;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
And in the Holy Ghost.
But those who say: ‘There was a time when he was not;’ and ‘He was not before he was made;’ and ‘He was made out of nothing,’ or ‘He is of another substance’ or ‘essence,’ or ‘The Son of God is created,’ or ‘changeable,’ or ‘alterable’—they are condemned by the holy catholic and apostolic Church.
[Translation of the original text of the 325AD Nicene Creed from Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom]