St. Nicholas: what can I say, he was a beast.

In church today, our rector handed out a card with a icon of St. Nicholas, similar to the one on the left.

On the back of the card read the following:

Nicholas was born in the 3rd century in Asia Minor. He used his entire inheritance to help the poor, sick, and children in need. He gave in secret, expecting nothing in return. He attended the Council of Nicea in AD 325. Greatly loved for his faith, compassion and care, he is venerated in both East and West.

OK., that’s pretty cool. He gave away his entire inheritance to those in need. I never knew that. I thought he had elves helping him or something, but I guess I got that part wrong.

The rest of the card really hit me and made me feel stupid and cheated for never having been taught this as a child.

Nicholas saved young women from slavery, protected sailors, spared innocents from excecution, provided grain in a famine and rescued a kidnaped boy.

Nicholas was a beast. Mother Teresa, Oskar Schindler, and Samuel L. Jackson all rolled into one. What an absolute crushing beast.

I like the icon–his eyes. He is looking off to the side, like he’s annoyed about having to sit there for a portrait while people in need were suffering.

Can you imagine how he would react to what he has become in our contemporary society?

[Say in Samuel L. Jackson voice, preferably the diner scene from Pulp Fiction] “Let me get this straight. You want me to fly through the air, slide down your chimney and give you stuff? How about I kick down your door and take all your money and give it people who need it?”

So, to review:

Santa Clause. Not real. An embodiment of our greed.

St. Nicholas. Real Person. Worth telling your kids about.

Samuel L. Jackson. No-nonsense tough guy. Like St. Nicholas (sans cursing and handgun)










OK, I’m exaggerating and “totally misunderstanding Samuel L. Jackson” (to anticipate some humorless comments). But, my point still stands. For “Jolly Old St. Nick” to have pulled off things like standing between a slave owner and his property, or an executioner and his victim, or go about unkidnaping a boy, he was probably a very brave man indeed with better things on his mind than making sure nice children get an X-Box or an iPad 3.

Yes, I know, he also beat up people he had theological disagreements with, which makes him a bit too much like Samuel L. Jackson–and perhaps the first of the neo-reformed–but I’m willing to roll with that for the time being, seeing that’s Christmas and all.

I feel better now. Thanks for listening.

[This post first appeared a year ago at this time.]



  • Randy

    This was pretty great! Wouldn’t it be awesome if when we decided to break the oh-so-devastating news to our children that Santa Clause doesn’t exist we countered it by telling them about how THIS guy did exist!!

    Maybe a little bit of perspective for the season.

    • Adulcia

      My eldest daughter never liked shopping mall Santas, and when she was three she was scared of the idea of a strange man coming into the house. So we sort of told her then it was pretend and she was much happier. However, I have also often told her the story of Nicholas, and only last year when she put the two together she was blown away by the idea that Santa was about Nicholas, and a really real person after all (even if he has been dead 17 centuries).

    • Jenny Islander

      That’s exactly how we tell the “Santa” story in our house.

      My favorite St. Nicholas exploit: So these two guys fall afoul of the local religious/political boss (basically the same thing) and end up in jail basically for annoying him. Bishop Nicholas is already well known as a firebrand and social reformer, so while stuck in prison, the two guys loudly lament, “Ohhh, if only Bishop Nicholas knew about us, we would be free!” And the guards hear this.

      That very night, the boss is awakened by Bishop Nicholas himself, leaning over his bed. Nicholas has a short, pointed conversation about the two guys in prison and leaves. The next morning, the boss releases the two guys with an apology and a letter for the Bishop in which he basically says, “Please PLEASE don’t ever scare me like that again!” And the two guys immediately set off to deliver it to Nicholas . . . who at that very moment is working in his church . . . several days’ travel away.

      Nicholas the Wonderworker indeed.

  • LoneWolf

    I understand that he punched out Arius too.

  • Mike

    He also punched Arius in the face.

  • Rob
    • peteenns

      You’re a strange man, Rob. Let’s hang out.

    • Carmelle Beau

      hahahahaaa!!!! (tears of joy)

  • Alex

    I did just that. I wrote a book called “the Real Santa Claus” explaining the story of St Nick, so they would know about the real origins of the silly, fat man.

  • Carolyn Custis James

    Wow! Who knew? Thanks for setting the record straight!

    • peteenns

      Working on it.

  • BobbyJo Newell

    Great article, lol, we were talking about this at our family dinner tonight. Not too many people know Saint Nick was real. We have been made fun of because our first born was born 22 years ago on Christmas eve and his name is Nicholas because of the day he was born on.

  • Joe

    Awesome article. Loved the Samuel Jackson voice!

  • nicolaas

    dutch children have always known the historical story, haven’t they?

  • Walter

    Interesting, in the Netherlands we celebrate Saint Nicholas on the fifth of December and give presents to each other on that date (instead of with Christmas)

  • Kate

    My mom is dutch. We grew up celebrating St. Nick on the 6th *and* putting our stockings out for Santa on the 25th…we always knew they were the same guy, and I knew many of these stories. Have you heard the one about the three pickled, dismembered boys St. Nicolaas is supposed to have reassembled and revived? Gruesome, cool stuff. :-)

    For the rest of you, this is a great place for all kinds of things for celebrating St. Nicholas:

    • peteenns

      We also celebrated St. Nicholas day on the 6th. My parents were German and it was sort of a “Christmas lite.” We had some things put in a stocking–usually an orange, candy, and some little toys. I think my mom especially wanted us to retain something European while also doing the American thing–although, we opened our presents Christmas Eve, after church, which basically made me hate going to church. Still, those Lutherans knew how to do a festive Christmas Eve.

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  • Brian LePort

    A beast indeed!

  • Frank Viola

    I just reviewed the new book out about St. Nick on my Patheos blog. But I like your card review better. And a lot more (I mean A LOT more) people shared your card review post than my book review post.

    So I think I’ll take up reviewing cards from now on.


    Psalm 115:1

  • Frank Viola

    p.s. good post by the way.

  • Rod Bennett

    Hate to be a spoil sport, but the only two things that we know for certain about Nicholas of Myra is that he was one of the bishops present at 1st Nicea and that he voted in favor of the Nicene symbol. Everything else is legendary, along the lines of the stories of St. Christopher. Some of it MAY be true, of course, like any legend, but the sources are quite shaky–and very late. Have fun with the stories, in other words, but take it all with a grain of salt.

    • peteenns

      That’s what some people say about the Bible ;-)

  • rvs

    Thanks for this. I’m reading your entire post as if written in the Jules-from-Pulp-Fiction voice. Yes! Bravo!

  • Kevin

    Yeah, but St Nick probably never had a “Royale With Cheese.” Nice piece.

  • Mark Sprinkle

    Awesome. Gives a whole new meaning to Holiday Punch. Our family has always celebrated St. Nicholas Eve as the beginning of the season, and now, with three boys, we can add St. Nick’s fisticuffs to our holiday traditions. Like they weren’t already there.

    • peteenns

      Glad I could help.

  • Beau Quilter

    Why, you haven’t even told the half of what Saint Nicholas did in his life!

    As a boy, he performed his first miracle by completely healing the withered hand of a woman he met on the road.

    Another woman attended Nicholas’ consecration as a Bishop, completely forgetting that she had left her infant in a warm tub set over a fire. Realizing her mistake afterwards she was overjoyed to find the baby still happy and alive, sitting in a boiling tub of water surrounded by flames and smoke. Saint Nicholas preserved him!

    Once, when an evil innkeeper beheaded three children and pickled them in a barrel of brine, Nicholas performed a miracle of resurrection and the children stepped right out of the pickling barrel.

    Once, Nicholas persuaded a group of sailors to offload a two-year supply of wheat from their ship for the starving poor of the town. When the sailors arrived at their final destination, they found that Nicholas had miraculously replaced all the donated wheat in the hold of the ship.

    Another group of sailors once found their ship dangerously grounded in shallows during a storm. After they called out to the Bishop Nicholas (already famously a friend to sailors), Nicholas miraculously appeared on the ship out of thin air. He helped the sailors maneuver the ship into deeper waters, then vanished into thin air, just as he had appeared.

    And these are only a few of the great achievements of Nicholas during his lifetime. After he died, far more miracles were performed by him over the centuries through prayers to his relics. Sometimes his ghost would appear to lend a helping hand.

    In actuality, we know next to nothing about Nicholas. All of the sources for his life appear centuries later; and the same histories that provide the facts you cited on the card at your church also tell the fabulous tales I’ve recounted here.

    • peteenns

      Beau, you are an unbelieving heathen :-)

      • Beau Quilter

        Bah, humbug!

      • Beau Quilter

        You flatterer!

  • Bryan

    Jackson’s take on Ezekiel was far more interesting:)

  • Scott Caulley

    A few years ago I happened to be in Salzburg, Austria, on December 6th– St. Nikolaus Day. Looking around the Altstadt, I was near the cathedral when St. Nikolaus arrived– dressed as a Bishop, per the European tradition, but accompanied by the Krampus figures (die Krampusse)– very scary beings dressed like demons. Takes “naughty and nice” to a whole other level. In other regions Nikolaus has an assistant, Knecht Ruprecht, who keeps the annual record of shortcomings. In Holland he is Zwarte Piet (Schwarze Peter), traditionally done in blackface. One might argue that our American Coca-Cola Santa is an improvement, but none can compete with the historic Nicholas!

  • http://CookWhatYou'veGot christi flahert

    I just saw this on FB. I can’t believe I didn’t know any of this either. In the span of three days, though, I’ve now heard this story three times and my tween and teen kids have seen both a video and production about it. Truly, this man far exceeds anything we have imagined with Santa Claus. Thankfully this coincides with both kids finally coming to terms with the falsity of SC! Now we can move forward with the truth and finding ways to give more than receive. Thanks for stepping out and writing this!

  • Jeff

    Does anyone know where I can obtain a similar card as this? I’d like to hand them out as I wish Merry Christmas to my neighbors, friends, others. Thanks! And Merry Christmas.

    • peteenns

      Jeff, try That’s on the back of the card.

  • Derek

    I’m probably reading a bit too much into this but after reading your last few posts it seems you are on a trajectory which will conclude that belief in God, the supernatural, miracles, etc. are basically primitive concepts that have no place in our modern society. We should come to embrace a less embarrassing position that basically rejects a heavenly Jesus but affirms the reality of Jesus’ non-literal spirit that inspires us to emulate his true humanity without all that fanciful theology.

    In my experience, this is a grey area that finds very little respect from both the Atheist/materialists and the Christian apologists. The Atheist mocks the progressive/liberal Christian as being unable to let go of his Jesus “security blanket” and take the final step toward Atheism. The Christian apologist, with a robust Christian worldview, regards the progressive/liberal Christian as being under a satanic deception and caving in to the “spirit of the age” at best and/or being in an unregenerate state that is finally surfacing.

    I hope that I don’t sound self righteous because I myself have been in that grey area and the cognitive dissonance is unbearable. I find that asking God to help our unbelief is critical…the only condition is that we actually want that help…

    I don’t think that those of us who are in such a perilous condition can afford to be glib. It’s dangerous and apostasy lurks around the corner. I believe there is a devil. I believe there is deception. I believe presuppositions matter. I believe we must be born again.

    • Beau Quilter

      So, just to be clear, in your view of the playing field, Derek, you would be the Christian apologist with a robust Christian worldview?

  • JRT

    Get rid of the Spartan Race adds. Fucking annoying.

  • Paul P

    That was a good post. I’m ready for Christmas.

  • FrNRT

    Modern scholarship* has actually shown that St Nicholas did not slap Arius, but grabbed his beard, slammed his head into the table and then performed a suplex on him. Needless to say, he is so much more important than overweight, hirsute men in flannel red suits feeding our consumer culture.

    *or perhaps seminarians joking around

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  • Meredith

    If it helps, this is not news to the 300 million Orthodox Christians or those of us who study Orthodoxy. :) Many of the saints in Christian history are hugely inspiring. Yay for Heb. 12 and all that!

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  • Dawn

    Last year, we learned about St. Nicholas and celebrated his feast day by buying clothes and dropping them off at organizations that clothe poor/homeless schoolkids in our area. A neighborhood school has a free clothes closets for any student in need. The women operating the closet almost cried when we walked in, “You have no idea how badly we need this!” She’s right. I didn’t even know schools had clothes closets for homeless students until a couple years ago. Anyway. A new tradition was born. We’re excited to go shopping after work. :)

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  • Anne

    St. Nicholas may or may not be a lot of things, but most agree that he’s the patron saint of needy children. The American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem hopes to connect his spirit with needy children in the Holy Land today. No surprise that war, fear and limited future have taken their toll. So consider celebrating by making St. Nicholas better known and by providing support for these kids who are the future of the Middle East. Visit and click on St. Nicholas. Lots of free stuff to help create a personalized event. And then make a gift that will feel a lot better than another sweater.

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  • Agnikan

    Saints on a Plane.

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  • Keegan

    Too bad none of these stories is probably true.
    One thing that is, though? He was only about 5 feet tall, which means the Beach Boys were onto something.

  • chad m

    beast. i love it! the real St. Nick was “like a boss.”

  • Michael Davis

    haha, your “beast” description made me think of Belsnickel of The Office:

  • JennyE

    When my sister and I asked our parents if Santa was real, they really did read us a story about St. Nicholas and his habit of giving in secret and told us that now we could be St. Nicholases too. It was pretty great, actually.

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  • Jessica

    You know who Chuck Norris is afraid of? St. Nicholas.

  • Kit

    Unkidnapping, huh? Less Samuel L. Jackson and more Liam Neeson!

  • Jim Lovelady

    Are you not allowed to call him “Bad-Ass Santa” like I’m not allowed to preach John 11 as “Bass-Ass” Jesus?

  • storiteller

    I have a book called the Life and Adventures of Santa Claus that is a weird but awesome combination of the semi-real St. Nicholas and the Santa Claus story. It has the world’s most tragic opening chapter and ends with the “he lives in our hearts” sort of ambiguous ending. Highly recommended, if not particularly historical.

  • Ivriniel

    Kinda off topic, but:

    What is it with people misspelling “Claus” lately?

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  • Eruvyreth I love this!

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  • Ray Valdez

    ok where can i read the story bout jolly ole st. nick bopping some guy in the face…that’s must read stuff

  • Don Bryant

    Yep, what I got from this post is “rector.” Rector? You gotta have a Rector if you’re going to hear about St. Nick in church. :-)

    • Lothar Lorraine

      My knowledge of American culture is too limited to understand what Rector means in that context :-)

      Could you please enlighten me?

      • peteenns

        A rector is the Episcopal version of a Protestant pastor–in charge of the parish (church). I think what Don means is that you only hear of St. Nick in more liturgically oriented churches that values saints.

        • Lotharson

          Thanks for the explanation Peter.

          For most French conservative Evangelicals, the history of the Church stops with the last letter of the New Testament and everything which lies between the 200 AC. and the reformation is seen as being worthless.

          German Evangelicals are a bit more open for other Christian traditions.

  • Scott Berkhimer

    I agree, Derek – you’re probably reading way too much into this.

  • Lothar Lorraine

    Yeah, Saint Nicholas was truly an extraordinary Christian.
    In my homeland Lorraine/Lothringen Santa Claus (Saint Nicolas) is a different figure from the commerical Christmas man.
    Historically, the gifts were seen as rewards for kind kids whereas the nasty ones were punished by the so-called father-whipper.
    Now the feast has become more universal :-)

    Oftentimes, atheist ask me if I believe in invisible splendid unicorns and Santa Claus.
    I find that Saint Nicholas is a wonderful example of the importance of definiton.
    If Santa Claus is a supernatural creature bringing all Christmas gifts to children, then it is sure he does not exist because parents know that they are the ones who did that.
    BUT if Santa Claus is defined as a loving old bearded man who anonymously distributes gifts to poor children, then I think there have been many Santa Clauses over the course of human history.
    And who knows, you and I could perhaps become one ;-)

  • Kat

    Nick knows if Chuck’s been naughty or nice.

  • Lotharson

    Dear Derek.

    The danger you mention is real, but it is possible to be a progressive Christian while being open to the possibility of the supernatural.

    In this post I made a distinction (like professor Roger Olson does) between progressive and liberal Christians, the latter ones denying the existence of the supernatural.

    I am agnostic about the miracles Jesus did and am open to the possibility He was really born from a virgin.

    Likewise I am quite open to the possibility that people of all cultures have had outlandish experiences with weird and deceptive creatures appearing to them under a lot of forms (elves, fairies and UFOs).

    I think we have normal (albeit not extraordinary) evidence for the existence of such a spiritual realm, so I disagree with liberal theologians on that point.

    Yet at the same time I deny that the apostle Paul was more inspired than C.S. Lewis as he wrote his letters.


  • Chuck Shingledecker

    He also wasn’t a white, northern European! :)

  • Andrew Dowling

    Arius, who St. Nick basically assaulted, is probably second to Pelagius as the most unfairly pilloried and misunderstood “heretic” in Christian history. Far from being a liberal, he was actually a conservative ascetic who saw Trinitarian theology as co-opting too much from Greek pagan philosophy and distorting the apostolic faith (which is a hard point to argue with).
    He also had a very sizable following and it took over a hundred years for the Church to finally squash Arianism to the fringe outposts.

    • Warren Crosby

      Andrew, do you have any of Arius’ writings that may exonerate him from these unfair claims?

      • Andrew Dowling

        All of his writings have been destroyed, but there are excerpts in the many screeds made against him, which we still have.

        • Jack

          Arius distorted the true faith so badly that it angered Nicholas to the point of striking him in the middle of the council. In this age of pluralism, we don’t even understand what heresy is anymore, or how terrible it is. All the other bishops threw Nicholas out of the council and took his bishop robes away from him and locked him in a cell for the act of striking Arius. That night EVERY other bishop at the council had the same dream, Nicholas receiving his robes back from the hands of Jesus and his mother. They reinstated him the next day. The council affirmed the teaching as handed down from the apostles, the co-eternal nature of the Son, Jesus, and his Divinity and humanity.

          • Andrew Dowling

            “That night EVERY other bishop at the council had the same dream,
            Nicholas receiving his robes back from the hands of Jesus and his
            mother. They reinstated him the next day.”

            Ah yes, and that really happened . . .

  • Agni Ashwin

    They don’t call him St. Nick Fury fur nuttin’.

  • James

    I hate to be a spoil sport but why not allow for a Santa figure in our ‘mythology’? A good opportunity for the kids to ask questions and the family to do a little digging. Recounting the various strands of this Christmas narrative should be of more interest than proving Santa real or not.

  • Jacob Michael

    Cute article but, “First of the Neo-reformed”? -_-

  • Bryan

    I am still shocked that Samuel Jackson could have more than one interpretation of the book of Ezekiel. He just needed to be more objective.

  • Kristen Rosser

    That’s by L. Frank Baum, I believe. Author of the Wizard of Oz.

  • Kristen Rosser

    Santa Claus is only about greed if you let him be. Just because he’s not St. Nicholas doesn’t mean he has no value as a myth. There’s a reason why the Santa Claus story has become so well known, and it’s not because he’s an embodiment of greed.

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