The History of Santa Claus | How One Man’s Generosity Changed the World

I remember when I was a kid, laying in bed, unable to close my eyes, my heart thumping and my mind racing in anticipation for what Santa might bring. Although my friends refused to believe, I had faith that it was all real—that Santa wasn’t some made-up, imaginary story that my parents lovingly went along with. But around my eleventh or twelfth Christmas, I began finding receipts and gift bags that caused me to question.

Even still, hope is a powerful thing. Deep down, I’d convinced myself, “Maybe Mom and Dad just help Santa pull it off.” Call that gullible or naive, but such is the heart of a child. Even now, as a father to four, I can’t rid myself of that childlike spirit and the tradition of Santa Claus at Christmas.

But as I thought about this long-standing Christmas tradition, something puzzling hit me. In a logical world, why do we gladly comply with such an illogical story? Think about it. Every shopping mall in America has a guy dressed up in a red suit to facilitate this giant fabrication. Yet we gladly stand in line, take pictures, buy gifts, and tiptoe around after midnight to make it all work.

That either makes all of us crazy, or it points to something deeper.

The Original Santa Claus

Let’s go back to the beginning.

St. Nicholas was a Turkish bishop who lived around 300 AD. Known for his outlandish giving, especially toward children and those in need, he walked throughout the countryside greeting people with gifts. After his death on December 6th 343, that date became marked in remembrance of his kindness. For more than 1500 years his tradition of giving was preserved and finally made its way across the Atlantic to New York City.

In the late 1700s, newspapers began reporting on Dutch families celebrating this tradition in the boroughs of New York. From there, the legend grew. Since the celebration of St. Nicholas’s death coincided with the traditional religious celebration of the birth of Jesus, the two were married and Christmas was born. Over the years we’ve added reindeer and elves as our imaginations fan the flame of the original story.

If you think about how it all came to be, it’s not illogical at all. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that all cartoons have an element of truth. We have to be willing to see the truth behind the tradition. In the case of Santa Claus, one man’s generosity literally changed the world.

Compliance Or Generosity?

But as noble as St. Nicholas was, I’m afraid we’ve hijacked his generous intentions. Our modern-day version of Santa neglects those in need and only blesses those who have been obedient. Instead of a generous saint, Santa has become more of a legalistic rule-keeper. As a result, parents use the tradition as a compliance mechanism to get their kids to behave.

We’ve created a world that believes blessings follow behavior—that we have to earn everything by our own effort. Consequently, Santa only rewards those who are nice. Maybe that’s why more than eighty percent of professing Christians believe that “God helps those who helps themselves” is actually in the Bible.

It isn’t.

And that’s precisely why the hustle and bustle and busyness of Christmas leaves us stressed and exhausted. We are collectively missing out on the true beauty of the original story. We’re lost in a false narrative. Instead of embracing richness and peace in each moment, we’ve traded them in for a checklist.

So how do we break free?

The Illogical Nature of Faith

Nothing about the Christmas story makes logical sense—God coming to earth in the form of a child, angels and dreams and stars leading shepherds, virgin births and magi visiting from the Far East. It all sounds hokey. Kind of like a man who travels the countryside giving gifts to all, right?

Beneath these stories is one powerful truth. When we’re willing to abandon our logic, we are rewarded with the gift of faith. By faith we welcome the very presence of God. That’s why the Bible says, “Without faith you cannot please God.” There is simply no other way to experience Him.

Faith, by definition, isn’t logical. Yet we consistently approach our spiritual lives with our logical mind. Until we’re willing to get honest about that, we’ll remain stuck. But if we will press into that truth, we’ll find a whole new world open to us. Like seeing with an entirely new set of eyes.

Radical Generosity

The cartoon of Jesus has changed over the years as religion has hijacked the story. Some say He didn’t exist, that it’s all a fairytale. And some say He was just a good teacher. Yet others make Him out to be a rule-bearing dictator who demands our obedience in order to gain His blessing. But the truth of Christmas is that God chose to be with us. And He was radically generous enough to give us His very Son.

That radical generosity is what captivates our hearts at Christmas. That’s precisely why the tradition of St. Nicholas has been preserved for all these years. It is an echo of God’s generosity. That type of generosity pierces us to our innermost being because it’s the kind we don’t deserve. It speaks to that childlike heart as we lay in our beds, eyes wide open, heart racing, wondering if it’s all true.

This year, if even for a moment, take off the grown-up, logical glasses when it comes to your faith. Instead of looking at the cartoon, begin seeking the truth within. Embrace the heart of a child who is willing to welcome the gift of a King.

At Christmas, we are reminded that One Man’s generosity literally changed the world.

Why is that so hard to believe?


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