Santa Claus is of course a fictional character, but more famous than perhaps most real life characters in history – at least in the United States. The common value linked to Santa Claus is the generosity of giving presents for those on the “nice list,” while for those on the “naughty list,” they are stuck with coal. Designating those “naughty” (i.e., the bad) from the “nice” (i.e., the good) would presuppose that there are objective morals, and that those who receive their gifts from Santa Claus are deserving of their inheritance. The good ones receive good gifts, the bad ones reap coal. How we define “good” and “bad” (or “naughty” and “nice”) is an important discussion. If God is the standard for morality, then we can know that all of those who have rebelled against God are “bad.” And of course, if God is the standard for morality and if He has revealed His standard of morality to us via the Bible, then it would be quite clear that everyone, including the historical figure in history, St. Nicholas (who has been morphed into a fictional character of Santa Claus), is bad (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Romans 3:23). Therefore, based on God’s standard of right and wrong, St. Nicholas would not quality for the perfect standard of a “nice list.” But St. Nicholas was not only on the proverbial “naughty list” in relation to God’s standards of holiness, there is also ample evidence to demonstrate that Saint Nicholas would be, in today’s post-modern, anti-propositional society, on secularism’s “naughty list.”
While Santa Claus is fictional, a fourth century man, now known as “Saint Nicholas” was historical. And though there is not much written documentation (though there is some) of the historicity and details of St. Nicholas’ life, there is enough evidence to compile what was the most likely livelihood of the man. Nicholas was born around the year 270 to fairly wealthy, Christian parents in Asia Minor. Although it is not exactly known when, Nicholas’ parents died, leaving a great sum of inheritance to their son. While some stories are a little different in exact details, it is known that he donated that inheritance to help the poor (of course, there could have been multiple occasions of giving, hence the differing details). In his acts of generosity, secularists would probably have no criticisms. His religious heritage, however, would be a different story.
In the early part of the fourth century, Nicholas became a bishop of Myra (in modern-day Turkey). Jolly ol’ St. Nick (the real one) was not the ultra tender, non-confrontational, grandfatherly figure of modern day Christmas movies (though he probably wasn’t an old grouch either!). You see, St. Nicholas actually had strong convictions in the doctrine of the Trinity, and he was not afraid to stand up for his beliefs. Nicholas was invited to and attended the controversial, yet crucial, Council of Nicea in 325 (his name does appear on the oldest manuscript of attendance, as well as several others). The major debate of this conference was on the doctrine of the Trinity as opposed to Arianism (the belief of the Son not being co-equal with the Father). One account even remarks that Nicholas was so utterly opposed to Arius (Arianism’s founder) that in the middle of the meeting, Nicholas slapped the heretic in the face! I am not condoning physical action towards heretical propagators, but the point that is certainly manifested from his involvement at Nicea is that Saint Nicholas would be labeled with terms such as “bigot” in today’s times (see also this link for further “religious fanaticism” of Nicholas).
If the full history of the real “Santa Claus” was revealed to all, would he make the “nice list” of 21st century secularism? I think not. Furthermore, the study of the 4th century Saint Nicholas brings out several important matters that I would like to simply summarize in three points:
(1) Saint Nicholas was just like you and me, a sinner who’s only hope was grace. I do not know the details of Nicholas’ faith, but the Bible says that only by faith can one by justified and reconciled to God, not by good works (Romans 5:1, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, etc.). He was not on God’s “nice list,” Jesus was and is the only One who could rightfully own that position, and He gave His righteousness to believers in exchange for their sin! Who would trade a gift for a bag of coal?
(2) Saint Nicholas was not up to par with secularism’s understanding of “toleration.” While the incident of Nicea went a little too far with slapping confrontation, the very fact that Nicholas would attend a meeting with other Christians who are opposing others with vigor is looked upon with great negativity. Nicholas should have been accepting of the Arians, since truth is relative, right? That’s nonsense, according to the propositional bishop of Myra. Either he’s right and Arius is wrong, or Arius is right and he’s wrong, or nobody’s right; but they both can’t be right.
(3) Saint Nicholas is only known today in partiality, which is an important lesson from history. Not all of what has been written about Nicholas has been true, but a great deal probably was and is true. With the evolution of the character of Saint Nicholas into Santa Claus, only agreeable characteristics are kept in mind. Everyone likes that he gave to the poor, but that he was obstinate in his Trinitarian beliefs and was heavily opposed to Arianism is not liked by many. The same is sometimes made about Jesus, that He was a moral teacher and did “good things” for others. But that He claimed to be the Son of God, crucified and resurrected, who would judge the world is not appealing. What’s even more important is the attestation to the historicity of the New Testament documents are profoundly stronger than even what is written about St. Nicholas. What’s the point? History is not for us to cut and paste to our liking. We must take all of what is presented with a discernible mind and be willing to apply all that is known to the present world today.
Was the real Santa Claus on the “naughty list”? He certainly wouldn’t meet God’s standard, nor would he be a “saint” among America’s cultural ideals. But he did do some good things and lived with courage. Who provides the measurement for the “good” and the “bad”? God. And it is only through faith in the Son of God, who exchanged His righteousness for our sin, that anyone’s name can be written in a much greater and actual book: the book of life.