With Christmas just around the corner, many parents are promising their young children a visit from the mythical, red robed, pot belly Santa Claus, the great bringer of gifts and pilot of reindeer.
This tradition is normally believed by children until they hit a certain age and realize that it’s nothing more than a tale passed down through the generations to make the holiday more magical. However, Santa Claus, or St. Nicholas, was a real person who literally gave his life for others according to various historical sources. He also was a devout Christian leader that not only defended the essential doctrines of the faith, but was persecuted against by the very anti-Christian Roman Empire of his time.
Here are 5 facts every Christian should know about the real Santa Claus.
He Was a Greek Bishop Persecuted Under Rome
St. Nicholas was born into a wealthy family in the third century A.D. His parents died when he was young and he inherited their riches. Later on in his life, Nicholas was known to be a generous man and often gave away a lot of his inheritance secretly to the poor and to orphans.
He eventually rose in the ranks of the church and became the Bishop of Myra, a port city located in modern day Turkey. It was here where he was thrown in prison for his beliefs and refusal to compromise his Christian faith under the harsh rule of Emperor Diocletian. He endured during a period known as the Great Persecution where Christian priests were forced to renounce their faith and burn their Bibles.
He Was Alive When Christianity Became Legal in Rome
During the rule of Roman Emperor Constantine, Christianity was made legal in 313 A.D. with the Edict of Milan. Around this time it is believed that St. Nicholas was released from prison. He lived around another 30 years in a world where was able to practice his faith more freely.
Throughout his life, he performed various miracles and was quite charitable. He even saved some sailors from a vicious storm in Turkey. His actions eventually led the church to make him the patron saint of sailors.
He Allegedly Resurrected People from the Dead
There’s an old legend that St. Nicholas was able to raise three boys from the dead that were murdered by an innkeeper. The story is highlighted in a book titled Santa Claus: A Biography by author Gerry Bowler and was very popular during the middle ages.
Nicholas entered an inn where the owner had just murdered and dismembered three boys. His intuition led him to believe that a murder had been committed and the story claims he caught the innkeeper and later resurrected the three boys who had been pickled in barrels in the basement. This story is one of the reasons why he was made patron saint of children. You also need to perform miracles to become a saint in the Catholic Church. This is one of those instances, according to Bowler.SPECIAL OFFER: Santa Claus: A Biography
He Vehemently Defended Church Doctrine
Saint Nicholas was a defender of Christian orthodoxy and vehemently opposed a prominent heresy of his time known as Arianism. Arianism taught that Jesus was a separate being from God and was subordinate to Him. It also claimed he was created at a point in time and did not exist in eternity. This greatly threatened the doctrine of the Holy Trinity which equates Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit and states that they are one being. It is believed that Nicholas prevented the arian heresy from ever impacting his home city of Myra.
Nicholas was also rumored to have been present at the Council of Nicea where he allegedly slapped Arius, the perpetrator of this heresy, when Arius was explaining his position to a group of almost 300 bishops.
The Gift Giving Tradition Started on His Feast Day
St. Nicholas died on December 6. A feast was created to commemorate his life and was widely celebrated by the church. It was on this day that the Christmas gift giving tradition first began.
The traditions were practiced regularly around Europe until the Protestant Reformation. St. Nicholas was then replaced by the baby Jesus as the ultimate gift giver in many countries.
However, some places like the Netherlands refused to give up St. Nicholas and throughout the years, thanks to some prominent authors and great marketing campaigns, he also became the main tradition for gift giving in America on Christmas day in the late 1800s and early 1900s.