Ever wonder where the modern myth of Santa Claus came from? The clue is in the word “modern” as he’s only been around really since the early 1800s. Building upon the European popularity of Saint Nicolas (Sinter Klaus, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, etc) in the late 1700 and early 1800s Dutch residents in New York popularized the tradition in the New World. In the early 1800s a growing commercialism likewise took hold of the gift giving tradition which translated into advertisement and shopping mall Santas. In 1822 the Episcopal minister, C.C. Moore, wrote the poem “Twas the night before Christmas,” which added many other elements to the gift giving tradition, including reindeer. In 1881 Thomas Nast illustrated the modern image of Santa. In the 1890s the Salvation Army sent unemployed men dresses as Santa to collect donations. In the 1930s and 40s the lore receive a huge boost through film, namely Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (’39) and Miracle on 34th Street (’47). Songs such as “Santa Claus is coming to Town” (’34) and Coca-Cola advertisements did much to embed the popular conceptions. Such modern myths have nothing to do with the real meaning of Christmas (the birth of Christ) and very very little to do with the real saint Nick.
Santa Claus means Saint Nicolas, it is a derivative of Dutch and ultimately Latin. Sainthood was an idea that slowly developed from the Patristic period and into the Mediaeval Ages to honour exemplary Christians (to the earliest Christians, grounded in the teaching of Scripture, saw every believe as a saint, or a holy and chosen one of God in Christ). Nicolas was one such man, an Overseer from Myra in Lycia (south western Turkey) in the late third to early fourth centuries. Very little is known about him, though even after his death he remained very popular. He was imprisoned during the persecution of Emperor Diocletian. There are many reports that he attended the important Church council of Nicaea. A church was first built in his honour in Constantinople (Istanbul) in AD 565 and a shrine arose around his supposed burial location in AD 1087 in Bari (southern Italy). He became the patron saint of children because he is said to have inherited great wealth which he gave away. Famously he is said to have rescued three young girls from being sold into prostitution by purchasing their freedom and providing them with a dowry. Inevitably this man became renowned for his kindness and generosity. As a Christian, such charity was surely rooted in the generosity of God’s grace shown to him in Christ, and were an outpouring of his changed life as an adornment of the Gospel (Tit 2:10), forsaking wealth and storing up treasure in Heaven. How very different the real Nicholas is from the modern myth of Santa Claus. Isn’t truth refreshing? May he be our example to look to Christ this Christmas and embrace a Christ-like kindness and generosity that is the fruit of faith, a faith we all so desperately need.
 F.L. Cross, ed., Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1958), 955.
In the midst of a very busy chapter that is Genesis 3 there is a curious verse which reads:
Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.
What is this verse saying? It could be misread a number of different ways and begs all kinds of questions.
Firstly, it must be understood in its context, which is the Fall of mankind from a state of grace that makes up the entire chapter. If we rewind to the time before the Fall we see a picture of a marriage relationship very different from that of Gen 3:16 (NB: marriage was God’s only intended expression of an intimate relationship between a man and a woman; all other forms fall under the heading “sexual immorality or fornication”). In Gen 2:24 we read the definition of the intended marriage state between one man and one woman. This is the same verse that Jesus, and also Paul, later quote in the New Testament. It reads: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Before sin entered the world a marriage was designed to reflect God’s complementary design which pervades the opening chapter of Genesis, equality in essence (Gen 1:27) but complementarity in roles. The husband has special responsibility for lovingly leading, providing for and protecting his wife. The wife was to be to him a helper. Together they were to form a team.
Gen 3:16 describes how sin came to affect God’s design for marriage. Since the Fall wives are tempted to be insubordinate and disrespect their husband’s leadership (“desire for your husband”)—in fact they desire that role for themselves, and the husband is tempted to abuse his leadership for selfish gain (“rule over your”)—or even shirk it. This abuse of our intended roles lies at the heart of most marriage (and pseudo marriage) conflict. Wives seek to usurp a position not rightfully theirs and husbands grossly abuse, or fail to step into the role given them by God. Gen 3:16 lies at the heart of all marriage troubles. How ironic is it that men are actually looking for what society says is beneath women (submission and respect), and women are looking for exactly the opposite of what culture encourages men to be (macho vs. loving, kind and strong). God knows best!
In the New Testament we see pictures of what an ideal, restored, marriage relationship ought to look like. In Ephesians 5:22–33 and 1 Peter 2:13–17 we see words such as “submit” and “obey” used for the wife, while the husband is not to be domineering, but the loving servant leader (the weight in Ephesians at least heavily falls upon the husband and not the wife). In the Bible “submission” and “obedience” are usually put forward as virtues, ways in which we are to honour God’s will and order for His Creation. It is a call for relationships to return to the pre-Fall harmony God intended, and Gospel power to effect that change. Christians are called to submit to Christ, governments, one another, church elders, employers, wives to husbands, etc. Through the Gospel God desires to restore all things to their proper design. Such restorations affirm the glory and power of the Gospel, and adorn it with great beauty. May the Holy Spirit transform marriage relationships to this great end!
The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,
A week or so ago I received an email from a man in our congregation. He had been looking for something in the cubby holes on his desk and came across an old Gideon's New Testament; the one he had received in school years previously. When he opened the cover the date he was given it was 65 years ago to the very day, December 9th, 1954.
"I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD," (Isa 45:3, NIV)
Oh the small graces the Lord is sometimes pleased to send us!
Author: Chris Crocker
Pastor, historian and beekeeper.