A Good Word for Santa

(Maria Fontaine) This article is about St. Nicholas, who is the patron saint of children, sailors, fishermen, merchants, the falsely accused, pawnbrokers, prostitutes, repentant thieves, several countries, and many cities.

Nicholas was born of wealthy parents in A.D. 280 in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek, and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. He lost his parents early to an epidemic, but not before they had instilled in him the gift of faith. Then Nicholas went to Myra and lived a life full of sacrifice and love and the spirit of Jesus. Nicholas became so Christlike that when the town needed a bishop, he was elected. He was imprisoned for his faith by Emperor Diocletian and released later by Emperor Constantine.

There have been many stories of his generosity and compassion: how he begged for food for the poor, and how he would give girls money so that they would have a dowry to get a husband. The story most often repeated was about how he would don a disguise and go out and give gifts to poor children. He gave away everything he had, and he died around 345. His body was later moved to Bari, Italy, where his remains are to this day.

But the story of Nicholas has spread around the world. Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. There are more churches in the world named after St. Nicholas than any other person in the history of the church.

People have also done strange things to him. Poet Clement Moore gave him a red nose and eight tiny reindeer. And Thomas Nast, the illustrator, made him big and fat and gave him a red suit trimmed by fur. And others have given him names, like Santa Claus. But what's important about St. Nicholas is that he had the mind of Christ. Because of his gentle, selfless love, he touched the whole world. And this same mind of Christ can be in us.--James Hewett