The patron saint of children and defender of the faith

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

The Santa Claus who commmits a sort of saintly burglary at this time of the year is, of course, the St. Nichilas who was the patron saint of children. And it is particularly appropriate to remember that the Saint gained his title by a miracle of resurrection….St. Nicholas, according to the legend, found two children literally gone to pot (like modern society) and miraculously raised them unconsumed.

G.K. Chesterton, The New Witness, Dec. 11, 1913
Feast of Saint Nicholas (Jan Havicksz. Steen circa 1663-1665)

In fact, some parents, as Dr. Taylor Marshall and family do, choose this day to start their children’s focus on Advent with stockings that are hung for little presents like slippers and new pajamas while the cookies and milk are put out to honor St. Nicholas and his legendary and kindly act to those young girls centuries ago*.

G. K. Chesterton had a life long love of St. Nicholas, whom he called Santa Claus, after the Dutch fashion which soon became the ubiquitous moniker for St, Nicholas in the West. In fact, he confessed as he got older, Santa Claus became more not less real to him.

“As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good–far from it. And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.”

– G. K. Chesterton, On Santa Claus, Review for the New York Times

St. Nicholas not only gained a reputation down through the years for giving gifts to children (and saving them from butchery in another legend), he also became known for his literal defense of the faith while Bishop of Myra, defending the trinity against the rising heresy of Arianism and being one of the signers of the Nicene Creed. Indeed, legend has it that Nicholas delivered a haymaker to a heretic over the point of the Holy Trinity!

Popular meme about St. Nicholas and his defense against Arian Heresy

Whatever we know about St. Nicholas, what he has been most associated with in the minds of children of all ages, is the giving of presents, representing the greatest giver of gifts, God, and his greatest gift to the world, that of His Son, Christ Jesus! A gift none of us deserved but which we so desperately needed and earnestly hoped for – even when we didn’t understand that we did need Him. This was the point on which Chesterton, a life long believer in Santa Claus, sought to help his reader understand.

“And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . . What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea. Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void. Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.” – G. K. Chesterton, from The Other Stocking, Black and White, 1903

* Some parents choose the Feast of St Nicholas to also read Dicken’s A Christmas Carol to the family together.

Still others watch incarnations of Santa Claus in works such as Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather which is an example of another point that Chesterton made about Christmas: “The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why.” – On Christmas, Generally Speaking

Death, a character in the Disc World Series of stories, takes on the role of the Hogfather (an incarnation of Santa Claus) because something has happened to the real hogfather. In this scene, he saves the little Match Girl from Hans Christian Anderson’s traditional Christmas story to teach others about the meaning of true Christmas gifts: Life and a future.

Our Advent Prayer

O good St. Nicholas, you who are the joy of the children, put in my heart the spirit of childhood, which the gospel speaks, and teach me to seed happiness around me.You, whose feast prepares us for Christmas, open my faith to the mystery of God made man.You good bishop and shepherd,help me to find my place in the Church and inspire the Church to be faithful to the Gospel.O good Saint Nicholas, patron of children, sailors and the helpless, watch over those who pray to Jesus, your Lord and theirs, as well as over those who humble themselves before you. Bring us all in reverence to the Holy Child of Bethlehem, when true joy and peace are found. Amen. St. Nicholas Ora Pro Nobis

Beloved, Children of all Ages, never stop believing in the goodness of God and “every perfect present that comes from above” (James 1:17)


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