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A (different) Christmas Story

By Kim Odgers,

It is now early December and another Christmas rushes at us as we again scramble to lock in our last minute festive arrangements.

A few of us might find a few moments, as happens every year, to question on social media the connection between a deeply religious celebration and the crass commercialism of throw away tinsel and poorly thought out over-priced and often unwanted gift exchanges.

But rising above all of the hypocrisy and commercialism of Christmas is that irreplaceable annual tradition of family and friends finding time to gather together to share quality time with each other.

It’s a good time.

I am not religious and I have little truck with the confection that surrounds shopping mall Santa Clauses. What has a sweating, obese old man living at the North Pole have to do with the events long ago in a small hamlet in Judea?

But there is in fact an interesting and little known link between Santa and the birth of Christianity.

Putting aside for a moment the modern American moulding of the image of Santa, most historians would agree that the likely origins of the Santa tradition began with St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, a small town situated in modern Turkey. Nicholas was a firebrand Christian during a difficult time of great Roman persecution involving crucifixions, bible burnings and lengthy imprisonment.

Nicholas held his faith while developing a strong reputation as a defender of the oppressed,

particularly children. He is reputed to have saved three young sisters from being sold into slavery and later even resurrected the pickled remains of three boys who had been murdered and dismembered by the local publican and stuffed into barrels. Quite a feat.

As we know, the Roman Emperor Constantine finally ended Christian persecution in the 4th Century and set about uniting the many divisions that had developed amongst the Christian communities of the Mediterranean. Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea bringing together 300 Bishops from around the Christian world including St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. Also invited was Arius, a controversial theologian from Egypt who argued reasonably that Jesus, as the son of god, was logically separate and subordinate to God. St Nicholas, our future Santa Claus, would have none of this, believing that Jesus and God were the same, and crossed the floor and whacked Arius. Nicholas spent the night in the dungeon, but in the following days the Council supported St Nicholas’s passionate belief in what is now a key tenet of the Christian faith. The Nicene Creed is routinely recited by millions

of Christians on every continent.

So, Santa Claus and the mainstream Christian religion are connected, but not in any way that would interest my 8yo granddaughter. I think it is a Christmas story that this year I will keep to myself.

Friday, December 6th, is Saint Nicholas Day (the date of his death) which is observed around the world as the feast day of Saint Nicholas. This date was once celebrated as the day for the ‘bringing of gifts’ until the occasion was shifted to the more convenient and spiritual date of 25 December.

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