Yes, it is the feast day of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, who gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus; indeed, there are still remnants of him in the modern representation of Santa Claus – Santa wears red because that is the color that Nicholas, being a Bishop, would have worn.
What you may not know about St. Nicholas is that he was an adamant defender of Trinitarian Christianity. One of the stories about him is that he was so offended by Arius at the council of Nicea that he boxed his ears! While such a response might seem odd by modern standards, I think the incident may help remind us of the importance of this doctrine. According to Arthur C. McGill, the primary issue between Arius and the trinitarians was whether God was a disinterested God of power or a God of love. For Arius, God was too holy to become directly involved in human affairs, so Christ had to be a creature rather than God himself. However, for the trinitarians, God’s divinity was defined by love rather than naked power or detachment, and so it was possible to conceive of a God who not only would give his very self to his creation, but who would exist in an eternally dynamic trinity in which each member gives of himself to the others. We might be disturbed by the violence of Santa Claus against Arius, but we should be more disturbed by the thing that caused St. Nicholas to do it, for if people become like the God they serve, Arius’s God of detached and naked power surely results in societal violence much more disturbing than a box on the ears. This Christmas, Santa Claus gave me a loving trinitarian God; what is he giving you?
For the next 23 days, I will be posting reflections on Christmas and Christmas culture as a way of counting down Advent. My posts will orbit about two themes: the primary reason for Christmas, the coming of Immanuel (God with us); and the odd and bizarre way that Christmas culture relates to this advent. These posts are informed by G.K. Chesterton’s analysis of Christmas and Dickens. See Chesterton on Christmas in my notes, from his biography of Dickens.
Next in the series: Nunc Dimittis