Home > Commemorations/Sanctoral Cycle of the Church Year > Slappy Christmas! Get to Know the Real “Santa Claus” – Saint Nicholas

Slappy Christmas! Get to Know the Real “Santa Claus” – Saint Nicholas

December 6th, 2013
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6a00d8345168f369e201053640f564970b-500wiToday is the day we commemorate and remember Nicholas of Myra, aka, St. Nick, aka Santa Claus.

Today is the day in the church year when we remember and commemorate St. Nicholas. You have to love the old guy, as opposed to that jolly old elf impersonating him these days. Dr. Gene Edward Veith reminds us of the sturdy stuff of which our dear Saint Nicholas was made, when he slapped Arius around for heresy. If you are interested in a really great book that tells the true Christian story of St. Nicholas, here it is. Dr. Veith’s story is below.

Known for his generosity and his love of children, Nicholas is said to have saved a poor family’s daughters from slavery by tossing into their window enough gold for a rich dowry, a present that landed in some shoes or, in some accounts, stockings that were hung up to dry. Thus arose the custom of hanging up stockings for St. Nicholas to fill. And somehow he transmogrified into Santa Claus, who has become for many people the secular Christmas alternative to Jesus Christ.

But there is more to the story of Nicholas of Myra. He was also a delegate to the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, which battled the heretics who denied the deity of Christ. He was thus one of the authors of the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. And unlike his later manifestation, Nicholas was particularly zealous in standing up for Christ.

During the Council of Nicea, jolly old St. Nicholas got so fed up with Arius, who taught that Jesus was just a man, that he walked up and slapped him! That unbishoplike behavior got him in trouble. The council almost stripped him of his office, but Nicholas said he was sorry, so he was forgiven.

The point is, the original Santa Claus was someone who flew off the handle when he heard someone minimizing Christ. Perhaps we can battle our culture’s increasingly Christ-less Christmas by enlisting Santa in his original cause. The poor girls’ stockings have become part of our Christmas imagery. So should the St. Nicholas slap. Not a violent hit of the kind that got the good bishop in trouble, just a gentle, admonitory tap on the cheek. This should be reserved not for out-and-out nonbelievers, but for heretics (that is, people in the church who deny its teachings), Christians who forget about Jesus, and people who try to take Christ out of Christmas. This will take a little tweaking of the mythology. 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.

On Christmas Eve, flying reindeer pull his sleigh full of gifts. And after he comes down the chimney, he will steal into the rooms of people dreaming of sugarplums who think they can do without Christ and slap them awake. And we’ll need new songs and TV specials (“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”). Department store Santas should ask the children on their laps if they have been good, what they want for Christmas, and whether they understand the Two Natures of Christ. The Santas should also roam the shopping aisles, and if they hear any clerks wish their customers a mere “Happy Holiday,” give them a slap. This addition to his job description will keep Santa busy. Teachers who forbid the singing of religious Christmas carols—SLAP! Office managers who erect Holiday Trees—SLAP! Judges who outlaw manger displays—SLAP! People who give The Da Vinci Code as a Christmas present—SLAP! Ministers who cancel Sunday church services that fall on Christmas day—SLAP! SLAP! Perhaps Santa Claus in his original role as a theological enforcer may not go over very well in our contemporary culture. People may then try to take both Christ and Santa Claus out of Christmas. And with that economic heresy, the retailers would start to do the slapping.

Source: WORLD Magazine
December 24, 2005, Vol. 20, No. 50


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  1. December 6th, 2009 at 14:53 | #1

    Great article! Coming from an evangelical/brethren background, I’ve never heard any of this stuff.

    In our PC culture/church I can imagine this new violent Santa being arrested for hate crimes or something! Still, I like the idea of slapping heretics.

  2. Ryan
    December 6th, 2009 at 21:35 | #2

    Check. St. Nick showed up at our Sunday School and discussed the two natures in relation to our redemption using a candy cane.

  3. December 6th, 2010 at 07:27 | #3

    Awesome post! We must also slap the people who say, “Happy Winter Holiday!” I’m sharing this story on my blog. Kept up the good work!

  4. John Mascola
    December 6th, 2010 at 07:56 | #4

    You were renowned as a priest in Myra, O holy Nicholas; for you fulfilled the Gospel of Christ, O venerable father. You risked your life for your people and saved the innocent from death. Thereby you have been initiated into the mysteries of the grace of God.

    Happy St. Nicholas Day to all!

    • December 6th, 2010 at 09:00 | #5

      We Lutherans would not be in favor of this prayer, but would rather thank God for Nicholas and his witness and mercy.

  5. tubbs
    December 6th, 2010 at 08:41 | #6

    Some interesting attempts at forensic reconstruction (from St. Nick’s skull) can be googled.
    He seems to have looked like the old iconic image.

  6. John Marquardt
    December 6th, 2010 at 16:01 | #7

    While traveling in Germany in the mid 1990′s. I had a very pleasant surprise when I opened my hotel room door — on the door handle was a bag filled with peanuts, a snowman made out of bread, candies, and a clementine orange.

    We received similar bags of oranges, peanuts, and candy on Christmas Eve as we left Church in my youth (and still do today). I’ve always wondered since that St. Nicholas Day in Germany if that bag of goodies I received on Christmas Eve was somehow connected to my Lutheran Church’s German heritage.

    Happy St. Nicholas Day

  7. Tim Lewis
    December 7th, 2010 at 20:24 | #8

    “… whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” No thanks! Not for modern Christians! They prefer pre-emptive slapping! And not for any wrong done them, but merely because someone who was trying to be friendly was not sufficiently deferential to them. I appreciate that this essay is not meant to be taken too seriously, but it perfectly sums up the oblivious self-righteous arrogance of modern American Christians.

  8. Dixie
    December 8th, 2010 at 07:31 | #9

    Growing up our mother (originally from Silesia and then Allgäu after the war) had us each put a sock on a door knob on the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas and in the morning they would be filled with candy and an orange and a little gift. My understanding is this was typical for St. Nicholas to bring these things–the sock, rather than using a shoe, might have been my mom’s attempt to Americanize her tradition with the Christmas stocking. At Christmas, however, the gifts were brought by Christkindl, the Christ Child. Wikipedia attributes the change in the date of gift giving from the Feast of St. Nicholas to Christmas and the gift giver, from St. Nicholas to Christ to Martin Luther. Don’t know if that is true or not. If true, the implications are interesting.

  9. December 10th, 2010 at 02:06 | #10

    This was a great story! I couldn’t find the book, however. What is the book called, please?

  10. Jennifer
    December 18th, 2010 at 18:38 | #11

    wondering how the photo at the bottom (hover over identifies source as Magpul MOE Stock) fits in?

    • December 20th, 2010 at 13:54 | #12

      Needed a place to stick a photo of something I’m selling on e-bay!

      : )

  11. December 6th, 2011 at 09:36 | #13

    There is a movie about the life of Nicholas of Myra coming out soon: . I can’t seem to find a release date anywhere, but it was filmed entirely in Buffalo, NY, and apparently the producer plans the premier in Buffalo: . I wonder if he included a scene of the incident at Nicea when St. Nicholas slapped Arius.

  12. Jonathan Trost
    December 6th, 2011 at 10:06 | #15

    Great article about St. Nicholas, Pastor. For sure, he was quite “the man”. However, a couple of points…….

    First, and of lesser importance, is the historical footnote that, in 1969, the Vatican removed St. Nicholas Day from the Roman Church’s lturgical calendar for the reason that there insufficient (if any) evidence that he was ever canonized in the first place.

    More interestingly, Martin Luther was not at all enamoured of the practice of celebrating St. Nicholas Day (begun by French nuns in the 12th century.) For centuries, there were more churches in the Middle Ages that were named after St. Nicholas than after al of the apostles combined. Next to Christ and the Virgin Mary at the time of the Reformation, he was the most popular figure in Christianity.

    Therefore, Luther attempted (successfully in northern Germany) to replace the celebration of St. Nicholas on Dec. 6th with the celebration of the “Christkind” or Christkindl” on Christmas Eve. And, just as St. Nicholas morphed into Santa Claus, so did the Christkindl morph into Kriss Kringle.

  13. December 6th, 2011 at 10:09 | #16

    According to the accounts I have read, Nicholas was actually brought before Constantine, who turned his punishment over to the other Bishops, who in turn defrocked him and put him in chains. There are additional accounts of a shared dream or vision of the Blessed Virgin pointing to Christ, whether or not that is the embellishment of hagiographers, I am not certain. But it is clear that Nicholas repented of his outburst, was reinstated, and did not miss a day of the Council.

  14. Matt
    December 6th, 2011 at 17:48 | #17

    Slapped? I’m quite sure the good Bishop manfully cracked him squarely on the jaw, sending him down in a pool of his own nonsense. If Pr. Lorfeld is correct and Nicholas was jailed for assault, than my admiration for him only grows.

    Some jolly old elf! I think we should celebrate his feast day by smacking the nearest heretic.

  15. Jonathan Trost
    December 6th, 2013 at 16:26 | #18

    Thanks for re-posting this article, Pastor!

    Perhaps, one reason why St. Nikolaus has received such short shrift within much of American Protestantism is that he dared to confront and speak to, of all things, heresy.

    And, with so many “mainline” congregations (and seminaries, too?) wincing at, if not completely avoiding, the contents of words such as “heresy”, “dogma”, and “doctrine”, it’s not surprising that so many know so little about St. Nikolaus or, for that matter, any of the Church Fathers.

    The principle tenet of American civic religion appears to continue to be: “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you believe in something.” With that as a given, there can be no such thing as heresy (other than that tenet, itself.)

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