"The person we refer to as Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra in the fourth century in modern day Turkey. Nicholas inherited great wealth as a young man when his parents died in an epidemic. He practiced charity his whole life and showed compassion to the poor or unjustly treated by society.
One example of St. Nicholas’ compassion involved a father who had lost all his money. This father had three daughters and now could not afford their dowries. The father’s decision to sell his daughters into slavery or prostitution came to the attention of Nicholas. On three separate nights, Nicholas anonymously threw a bag through the family’s open window containing enough gold for a dowry for one daughter. Thereby, all were saved from disgrace.
What we refer to as Santa Claus is an artist’s depiction of the "fat jolly old elf" from Clement Moore’s 1823 poem "The Night before Christmas". This Santa became the central figure in Coca-Cola advertising for over 30 years in the early 1900’s, thus cementing this figure as a world icon of commercialism.
What a contrast! St. Nicholas saw his resources as a gift from God to be shared with the poor and marginalized; Santa Claus encourages us to generate more gifts for ourselves or our loved ones.
As J. Rosenthal & C. Myers said years ago in their piece called "Santa Claus and St. Nicholas,"
Santa Claus belongs to childhood; St. Nicholas models for all of life.
Santa Claus encourages consumption; St. Nicholas encourages compassion.
Santa Claus flies through the air—from the North Pole; St. Nicholas walked the earth—caring for those in need.
Santa Claus, for some, replaces the Babe of Bethlehem; St. Nicholas, for all, points to the Babe of Bethlehem. (http://www.stnicholascenter.org/)
In scripture, Jesus gives us the two great commandments. The first is to love God and the second is, "You must love your neighbour as yourself" (Matthew 22:35-40). St. Nicholas is a perfect example of "loving your neighbour," with a preference for those in need.
Who will be our model for this Christmas season: St. Nicholas or Santa? Do we choose to share our abundance or continue to fill our lives and our families’ lives with material possessions?
I suggest we toss some bags of gold through the open windows of our neighbours.
Personally, I love the Santa story but never forget the true meaning of Christmas. After all, the word Christmas comes from the old English "Cristes maesse" meaning Christ's Mass. But the truth seems to have become fuzzy for most. Your thoughts?