Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The real St Nicholas and the secular counterfeit

St Nicholas was a priest, an abbot, and a Catholic bishop of Myra in the 4th century. He once helped a poor man who had three daughters that could not afford a proper dowry for marriage. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the poor man's plight, Nicholas decided to help him but being too modest to help the man in public, (or to save the man the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to his house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man's house and landing in a stocking hung up to dry. This is how the story of Santa Claus was born. He was known for his holiness, zeal, and astonishing miracles–even raising people from the dead. He was cast into prison during the persecution of Diocletian but he was released after the accession of Constantine, and was present at the Council of Nicaea in 325 ad. He died on December 6 in 345 ad. His feast day is thus on December 6. He is the patron saint for mariners, merchants, bakers, travelers, and children.
Although the spirit of charity that St Nicholas models is good, the secular culture has turned him into something contrary to the faith. The current St Nicholas (Santa Claus) is now someone with magical powers which is condemned in Deuteronomy 18:10. He is immortal (Hebrews 9:27 man is appointed to die once then the Judgment). He knows the lives of everyone and in a sense judges the heart of the individual for being good or bad (huh I thought God was the only one who could do that). He flies around with reign deer so fast that he reaches to be reasonable 3 billion houses in 24 hrs. That is 34722 houses per second. Not even superman could do that.  Now if anyone can explain to me why lying to you children that this fictional person is real, and this is a good thing, I would love to hear an explanation.
A decent counter to this argument I’ve heard consists of this: “Jesus told stories that were not true. They are called parables.” This is how I respond: A parable is a story that pertains to real life so that the hearers can relate to them. Those stories could have actually happened or if they were a fantastic story the hearers knew it was fantastic. In the Santa story the hearer is led to believe the fantastic is real and is thus deceiving them. Having a fantasy story is fine but keep it a fantasy.
Another argument I heard is that Santa as a myth is not wrong to teach just like teaching kids about Greek mythology. The distinction is when you teach Greek Mythology you teach that it is something that people believed but is not real. When you teach about Santa you are teaching something that is not real as if it was real.
Another argument is that the Church baptized pagan things like they turned Samhain into All Hallows Eve, or the Christmas tree, or Mistletoe. It is more like a reverse baptism with Santa because you started out with a saint and then added the rest that was not true. Here is the difference. When you bring in a Christmas tree or mistletoe do you apply special powers to them or tell untrue stories about them? If yes then the same problem exists. If no then they are harmless traditions if they do not detract from the real reason for the season.
The best counter argument I have heard is that Santa instills in kids a sense of wonder that leads to Christ. This makes me wonder where in the mainstream Santa story does Jesus fit in. Drum roll, and Jesus is no where to be seen. For the sake of argument I will agree that in some way Santa can point to Christ for those who deliberately put Him in there. This brings up the real problem with this argument. If I steal a bible to learn about God is it a sin? Most people when asked if they could go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby they would answer yes justifying that it would save millions of lives. The answer to both of these questions is they are not moral and would be sin. The end does not justify the means. You can not kill an innocent to save lives. How does this fit in with Santa? You are lying to children to lead them to Christ. Think about that and how absurd it actually sounds.
You say it isn’t lying it is just fun. Let’s think about this. Did you say that Santa is a man who lives in the North Pole and flies around on Christmas Eve delivering presents to all the good children? If yes, does this happen as described? If no then it is intentionally telling someone something that is not true with the intent of that person believing that which is not true is actually true.

This is how the Catechism defines lying:

2482 "A lie consists in speaking a falsehood with the intention of deceiving."[280] The Lord

denounces lying as the work of the devil: "You are of your father the devil, . . . there is no truth in

him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of


2483 Lying is the most direct offense against the truth. To lie is to speak or act against the truth inorder to lead someone into error. By injuring man's relation to truth and to his neighbor, a lie

offends against the fundamental relation of man and of his word to the Lord.

2484 The gravity of a lie is measured against the nature of the truth it deforms, the circumstances,

the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims. If a lie in itself only

constitutes a venial sin, it becomes mortal when it does grave injury to the virtues of justice and


2485 By its very nature, lying is to be condemned. It is a profanation of speech, whereas the

purpose of speech is to communicate known truth to others. The deliberate intention of leading a

neighbor into error by saying things contrary to the truth constitutes a failure in justice and charity.

The culpability is greater when the intention of deceiving entails the risk of deadly consequences

for those who are led astray.

2486 Since it violates the virtue of truthfulness, a lie does real violence to another. It affects his

ability to know, which is a condition of every judgment and decision. It contains the seed of discord

and all consequent evils. Lying is destructive of society; it undermines trust among men and tears

apart the fabric of social relationships.

You can instill wonder in your children by telling the real story about how God became Man who was born in a stable and not a palace. The Christmas Carol is a story about how a man was visited by ghosts of past, present, and future. How about instead tell the story about how St Faustina was visited by the Holy Souls in Purgatory who asked her to pray for them and have Masses offered for them, or the story of Fatima where the children where shown Hell, or the story of how Padre Pio appeared in the clouds to direct WWII bombers away from a non military target. Open the treasure chest of the Catholic Church and you will have no trouble instilling wonder in your children. Imitate the example of St Nicholas and remember the saint but don’t get caught up with the secular counterfeit.

The Church does not have an official teaching on Santa Claus so this reflects my opinion.

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