|"The Dowry For Three Virgins"|
Gentile da Fabriano
The St. Nicholas Clause
Q: I’m really tired of the whole Santa Claus version of Christmas and the pressure to buy our way to bliss. Why does the church play along with that whole marketing nightmare?
A: The Church, Gentle Inquirer, doesn’t endorse Santa Claus and hasn’t had much effective control over daily life for a very long time. You must be longing for some “good old days” that exist mostly in myth and, as much as we sympathize with your yearning for simpler days and a focus on the actual birth of the Saviour, any attempt at de-mythifying Christmas (yes, we know that’s not a real word – humor us) is highly unlikely to succeed. Look anywhere in the world and you will find people who cling to their myths and legends with fondness and perpetual vigor. The Church does endorse peace, generosity and expressions of good will to all (which includes tired, cranky, reluctant shoppers).
Q: Can’t we at least ditch Santa Claus and stick to St. Nick? That at least suggests some religious tie to the real meaning of Christmas.
A: We are sorry to disappoint you, but St. Nicholas is an Advent (the season of anticipation, beginnings, hope) saint, celebrated on the 6th of December, not a Christmas figure, and his very existence is disputed by some scholars. He is said to have been Bishop of Myra (currently part of Turkey), renowned for his generosity to children, and an attendee of the Council of Nicea (325 ad) although there are no mentions of him on the surviving documents from that important meeting. The patron saint of sailors, early images showed him arriving by ship or traveling on a white horse to deliver small anonymous gifts to sleeping needy people.
A: Basically, yes, but let’s not put all the blame on anyone; as vile as modern advertisers may be, they didn’t invent popular culture or myth making! The early church sainted quite a lot of fairly normal, admirable people to be examples and role models for believers. The stories of their lives got bigger and saintlier with every re-telling, eventually including miracles to qualify for sainthood. Surely, this tendency to embellish stories doesn’t surprise you, now does it?
Q: Maybe not, but isn’t it just wrong to keep feeding our children silly stories that kind of scare them into thinking that if they aren’t “good” they won’t get presents?
A: While Gentle Inquirer’s instinct to avoid manipulating children with threats is laudable, most parents will laugh (a hearty ho, ho, ho!) at the notion that one must not use tangible incentives to encourage positive behavior. Do we detect disappointment of your own in your tone? The pony never materialized? The fire truck with all the bells and whistles never arrived despite your sincere efforts to stay out of trouble? These aren’t reasons for canceling a whole season that encourages peace, good will toward all people and the sharing of gifts as a remembrance of God’s gift to us of a Saviour, no matter how garish the packaging of the message may have become. Celebrate without Santa or the Grinch if you like, but do celebrate the Christ child’s birth with all the joy you can muster!
Pictures from Wikipedia.
Note: St Nicholas is also remembered for being generous to poor virgins in need of dowries. Padre Mickey has a splendid post on St Nicholas, which includes the story of the three virgins depicted in the painting at the top left.