The History of Santa Claus

I remember being a kid, laying in bed, unable to even close my eyes, my heart thumping and my mind racing in anticipation for what Santa might bring this year. Although my friends refused to believe, I had faith that it was all real—that Santa wasn’t some made-up, imaginary story that my parents lovingly went along with.

It was around my eleventh or twelfth Christmas when I started finding receipts and gift bags that caused me to question. But hope is a powerful thing. Deep down, I’d convinced myself, “Maybe Mom and Dad just help Santa pull it off.” You might call that gullible or naive, but such is the heart of a child. Even now, as a father to four, I can’t rid myself of that childlike spirit and the essence of Santa Claus at Christmas.

But as I thought about this long-standing Christmas tradition, it became curious to me that in a logical world, all of us gladly comply with such an illogical story. Think about this, every shopping mall in America has a guy dressed up in a red suit to facilitate this giant fabrication. Yet we gladly stand in line, take pictures, buy gifts, and tiptoe around after midnight to make it all work.

That either makes us all crazy, or it points to something deeper.

The Original Santa Claus

I began wondering, how did the tradition of Santa Claus begin? So, I did a little research.

St. Nicholas was a Turkish bishop, a monk, who lived around 300 AD. Known for his outlandish giving, especially toward children and those in need, he walked throughout the countryside greeting people with kindness and gifts. After his death on December 6th 343, that date became marked in his remembrance and his tradition of giving was preserved for more than 1500 years until it made its way across the Atlantic and into New York City.

In the late 1700s, newspapers began reporting on Dutch families celebrating this tradition in the boroughs of New York City. From there, the legend grew. Since the celebration of St. Nicholas’s death coincided with the traditional religious celebration of the birth of Jesus, the two were married and Christmas as we now know it was born. Over the years we’ve added reindeer and elves as our own imaginations have fanned the flame of the original heart behind St. Nicholas’s generosity. And if you actually take the time to think about how it all came to be, it’s not illogical at all.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that all cartoons, all legends have an element of truth in them. We just have to pause for a minute to really see the truth behind the tradition. In the case of Santa Claus, one man’s generosity literally changed the world.

I’m afraid, though, that we’ve hijacked St. Nicholas’s original generous intentions with our own modern-day version. Instead of giving to those in need, Santa has become more of a rule-keeper, only blessing those who have been nice and neglecting those who have been naughty. Subsequently, every parent falls into the trap of using Santa Claus as a compliance tool to get their kids to behave.

Unfortunately, we’re creating a world where we are conditioned to believe that blessings follow behavior—that we have to earn everything by our own effort. It’s not surprising that over eighty percent of professing Christians believe that “God helps those who helps themselves” is actually in the Bible. It isn’t.

So why does that really matter?

Because something needs to change. Our current hustle and bustle and busyness—our efforts to earn something—have left us stressed and exhausted. And in the end, we miss out on the beautiful things in life, the richness in the everyday moments and the peace that we were intended to experience.

So how do we get there?

We need to be reminded to let go of our logic.

The Illogical Nature of Faith

Faith, by definition, isn’t logical. And if we’re willing to press into that truth, we’ll find a whole new world open to us. In fact, it’s like seeing with an entirely new set of eyes.

As I look at the Christmas story with this new perspective, nothing about it makes logical sense: God coming to earth in the form of a child, angels and dreams and stars leading shepherds, virgin births and magi visiting from the Far East. It all sounds hokey—kind of like a man dressed in a red suit delivering gifts all over the world. But if you think about it, those that are willing to abandon their logic are rewarded with something special, and that is the gift of faith.

It is by faith that we welcome the very presence of God. In fact, there is no other way to truly experience Him.

The cartoon of Jesus has changed over the years as religion has hijacked the story. Some say He didn’t exist. Some say it’s all a fairytale. Some make Him out to be a rule-bearing dictator who demands our obedience in order to gain His blessing. But the original truth is that God chose to be with us in the midst of our lives—a blessing because of His grace. It was His radical generosity that would eventually cause Him to give His life. And it’s our illogical faith that grants us access to His presence.

You see, I think it’s that same radical generosity that still captivates us. It’s what has caused the tradition of St. Nicholas to be preserved for all these years—it is an echo of God’s generosity. And it pierces us to our innermost being. It calls to us in that childlike heart as we lay in our beds, eyes wide open, heart racing, wondering if He really exists.

When you abandon logic, you see that, in the life of Jesus, one man’s generosity literally changed the world.

Is that so hard to believe?

As you engage the Christmas season with your family and friends, I challenge you to take off the grown-up, logical glasses when it comes to your faith. Instead of looking at the cartoon, begin seeking the truth within. Put yourself back in that place where you have the heart of a child willing to welcome the gift of a King.

And your reward will be the very presence of God.

Merry Christmas, friends.



Starting in January, along with Zondervan author, Kevin Adams, we are launching a private, interactive community for the purpose of helping you develop your faith between Sundays. If you’re a Christian who has questions and if you’re wanting to grow in your faith, join us here:

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