[An old WORLD column]
Santa Claus had his origins in St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. Known for his generosity and his love of children, Nicholas is said to have saved a poor family’s daughters from slavery by tossing into their window enough gold for a rich dowry, a present that landed in some shoes or, in some accounts, stockings that were hung up to dry. Thus arose the custom of hanging up stockings for St. Nicholas to fill. And somehow he transmogrified into Santa Claus, who has become for many people the secular Christmas alternative to Jesus Christ.
But there is more to the story of Nicholas of Myra. He was also a delegate to the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, which battled the heretics who denied the deity of Christ. He was thus one of the authors of the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. And unlike his later manifestation, Nicholas was particularly zealous in standing up for Christ.
During the Council of Nicea, jolly old St. Nicholas got so fed up with Arius, who taught that Jesus was just a man, that he walked up and slapped him! That unbishoplike behavior got him in trouble. The council almost stripped him of his office, but Nicholas said he was sorry, so he was forgiven.
The point is, the original Santa Claus was someone who flew off the handle when he heard someone minimizing Christ. Perhaps we can battle our culture’s increasingly Christ-less Christmas by enlisting Santa in his original cause. The poor girls’ stockings have become part of our Christmas imagery. So should the St. Nicholas slap.
Not a violent hit of the kind that got the good bishop in trouble, just a gentle, admonitory tap on the cheek. This should be reserved not for out-and-out nonbelievers, but for heretics (that is, people in the church who deny its teachings), Christians who forget about Jesus, and people who try to take Christ out of Christmas.
This will take a little tweaking of the mythology. Santa and his elves live at the North Pole where they compile a list of who is naughty, who is nice, and who is Nicean. On Christmas Eve, flying reindeer pull his sleigh full of gifts. And after he comes down the chimney, he will steal into the rooms of people dreaming of sugarplums who think they can do without Christ and slap them awake.
And we’ll need new songs and TV specials (”Santa Claus Is Coming to Slap,” “Deck the Apollinarian with Bats of Holly,” “Frosty the Gnostic,” “How the Arian Stole Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red Knows Jesus”).
Department store Santas should ask the children on their laps if they have been good, what they want for Christmas, and whether they understand the Two Natures of Christ. The Santas should also roam the shopping aisles, and if they hear any clerks wish their customers a mere “Happy Holiday,” give them a slap.
This addition to his job description will keep Santa busy. Teachers who forbid the singing of religious Christmas carols—SLAP! Office managers who erect Holiday Trees—SLAP! Judges who outlaw manger displays—SLAP! People who give The Da Vinci Code as a Christmas present—SLAP! Ministers who cancel Sunday church services that fall on Christmas day—SLAP! SLAP!
Perhaps Santa Claus in his original role as a theological enforcer may not go over very well in our contemporary culture. People may then try to take both Christ and Santa Claus out of Christmas. And with that economic heresy, the retailers would start to do the slapping.