True Father Christmas is Bishop St. Nicholas
For centuries the world over, the true Christian image and custom of Father Christmas have become blurred and even lost due to a certain misidentification and diversionary practice by some Western European traditions. Like some other Christian traditions (e.g., St. Valentine), there is need to set matters aright, to correct errors and restore facts. All efforts must be done by us Christians to understand our genuine Christian traditions, and to practise and propagate them properly.
The dominant popular image and action of Father Christmas remain distant from the authentic religious personality who animates and models the Christian tradition of Father Christmas. True Father Christmas has the origin, root and spirit of a Christian saint of the 3rd/4th century A.D. called Nicholas, who was at that time the Bishop of Myra in today’s Turkey. The Church celebrates his annual memorial feast day on the 6th of December, barely twenty days to Christmas.
St. Nicholas is known for his Godly-Christian spirit of selfless generosity to others. He was a Bishop who gave generously to many people, especially to the poor and needy children. The most exciting story was that of his gift of money on three consecutive Christmas eves, made to an impoverished father to enable him have the dowry needed for the marriage of his three daughters. No doubt, his exemplary generosity contributed to earning him his sainthood, and notably his identification with the Christian custom of giving gifts during the Christmas period to children notably, and eventually how he became enfigured as Father Christmas.
God the Father animates Father Christmas. Christmas is about giving. God the Father is the giver par excellence; he is primordially and pre-eminently the Supreme Father Christmas. For God so loved the world that he gratuitously-mercifully gives the world his only Son Jesus Christ, the Messiah; he gives humanity many other gifts of salvation (John 3:16). Giving is an integral part of the Christian calling and commission. It is an imitation of God in Christ: to give and to give freely for we receive freely from God. God-animated and Christianimated, St. Nicholas did so much.
St. Nicholas lived his spirituality of giving as a Bishop, and so is usually depicted in ecclesiastical art form dressed in his Episcopal regalia and vestments. It is he who typifies the true Father Christmas, not the pot-belly red-capped and red-robed white bearded man who emerged centuries later as an exotic or cosmetic figure, said to come from the snowlands of Northern Europe, and riding on sledge drawn by reindeers or dogs. However the profane may try to imitate the spiritual, the two figures must not be mistaken; the difference remains and we must be careful not to confuse or misidentify them. The one is a man of God busy with divine things, the other a man of mammon busy with mundane things. Bishop Saint Nicholas is the true Father Christmas of our Catholic tradition.
Part of the recent distortion of Father Christmas is by money mongers of Western European nations who hijacked the person and practice of Father Christmas, shifting his major Christian characters away from religion, homes and churches into their departmental stores and media houses. Africans have unscrupulously copied. It is utilitarianism under the pretext of distributing gifts to children; it is a gradual de-religionizing commercialization of Father Christmas as of the Christmas event intimately connected with it. The image which many people have of Father Christmas is no longer the image of the Bishop and Saint Nicholas (later acronymed Santa Claus). Commercialized Father Christmas of our era functions principally for promoting material products for sales and for attracting buyers of material goods in the supermarkets and shopping mauls and for media publicity and shows much more than it is for propagating the content and intent, the message and mandate of the Birth of the Messiah. Except for operating during the Christmas season, commercial Father Christmas stands so far from the Child Jesus Christ. Profane or desacralized Father Christmas preaches and presents little or nothing about the newborn Babe; he is Machiavellian and has no qualms exploiting Father Christmas solely for economic interest.
When we behold Father Christmas of commercial hedonism, when we think of his wears, appearance, activities, the write-ups about him on cards and media designed and sponsored by Western European authors, we cannot but lament the attempt to deemphasize or disrobe him of his core Christianity, of his Christian figure and character, of his Christian value and purpose. Christians must be wary of the artistic images of Father Christmas found on Christmas greeting cards these days; scrutinize them and you will be shocked they have little or nothing Christian about them. Better choose to buy well-designed Christmas cards with the image of Bishop St. Nicholas as Father Christmas; choose cards which reference Old and New Testament Scripture passages about the Birth of the Messiah; choose those which tell the story of the annunciation to the Blessed Mother Mary and her Spouse St. Joseph, of the appearance of the shepherds, angels and the Magi, all of whom were key players in the sublime event of God’s gift of the Child Jesus to us. True Christmas cards, media and materials carry sacred images and contain Christian symbols; they express Christian prayer and music of the season. Glory to God in the highest and peace to men of good will! Whatever the gift we give, let them be clearly and intimately connected with the Nativity; let them inspire and gladden us; for unto us a Child is born.