Thursday, December 29, 2005

Have Yourself a Slappy Slappy Christmas? Santa Claus as Theological Enforcer

Have Yourself a Slappy Slappy Christmas?

This will be my last Christmas-themed post of the season. Honest!

Many of our fellow citizens enjoyed a wonderful Christmas celebration, full of lights, decorated trees, tasty confections, nostalgic carols, gift giving, and Christmas Eve and (this year)Christmas Day church services (except in a few mega churches closed for the “holiday”). For a large percentage of Americans, anyway, that also included Santa Claus. Whether as an addition to manager scenes and Christian carols or a secular substitute for them, Santa is a more or less permanent part of Americana.

We all know that Santa had his origins in St. Nicholas, the fourth-century bishop of Myra in present-day Turkey. Renowned for his unusual love for children, he has become the model for Christmas generosity and a spirit of giving. One of the legends surrounding him tells of his saving 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. Add to that a few 19th century Thomas Nast drawings and the folklore associated with Christmas celebrations for the past 150 years or so and you have Santa Claus.

Thanks to Gene Edward Veith of World Magazine we now know the “rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say (

[St. Nicholas] 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.

So, Veith muses on a variety of slaps that might become part of our Santa tradition. He does not suggest 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 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.

So, as we prepare for another round of Christmas preparations, "Xmas 2006," perhaps we should lift a page from the original St. Nicholas and get ready to have ourselves a slappy little Christmas?

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