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Santa Claus, the Real Untold Story

I don't like Santa Claus very much. He seems to be a usurper, stealing much deserved attention from the Prince of Peace. For years, I called him SATAN CLAUS, because of how he distracted people from the real reason for the season. In recent years I've instead enjoyed studying the rich life of the extraordinary man behind the image, the man whose lovely life made him a legend around the globe.

When the Dutch came to the New World, they brought their traditions based on the life of Saint Nicholas. In fact, when you pronounce Saint Nicholas in Dutch it sounds very much like Santa Claus. So who is this mythical figure who flavors so much of the celebration of Christ's birth - a man for whom 1,200 churches were named; a man whose face has been captured in art more than any other religious figure other than Jesus and Mary? More importantly, why is he so venerated?

To understand that, we must journey back through time to 4th Century Turkey. Born to a wealthy family, this future saint named Nicholas suffered the death of his parents at an early age. That loss no doubt fueled his longing to help the needy. Instead of spending his substance on himself, Nicholas determined to do whatever he could to use his substantial wealth to alleviate the poverty and suffering of others.

An early story reflects his generous intentions leave us with a tradition that most Christians honor today but few understand. It concerned a poor family with three daughters but not enough money to establish a dowry so they could marry. There were no equal opportunities for women in 4th century Turkey. Young girls who couldn't afford to marry often ended up as servants and sometimes even worked in the world's oldest profession just to earn their keep.

When Nicholas learned of their plight he decided to act. But how to do so anonymously? One night, just before the oldest daughter was to be sold into slavery, he climbed on their roof and dropped a small bag of gold down through the chimney earmarked for the oldest daughter. Since stockings were hanging by the chimney to dry it landed in one. The next night, he dropped a second bag of gold down the chimney for the middle daughter. Overjoyed and mystified by these puzzling gold pouches, the father determined to stay up all night the third night so he could thank their baffling benefactor. Upon catching him in the act, the grateful father told the whole town of Nicholas' generosity, to his dismay.

Nicholas' life, as with many who earnestly seek to follow God's Spirit, is animated by many marvelous incidents of Synchronicity -- those wonderful, seemingly serendipitous events that evidence the hand of God making straight the way of His servants. The story of how he became a bishop is alive with just such an occurrence.

Nicholas was traveling to the town of Myra and stopped in to visit the local church. Unbeknownst to him, the leaders of the church had been praying for a man to become their bishop. In a dream, they were told that the first man named Nicholas to visit them was to be their new Bishop.   Nicholas was astonished when he arrived at the church, introduced himself, and was immediately clothed with the mantle and garments of a bishop.

It proved to be a wise choice. Under the cruel emperor Diocletian, Nicholas steered his substantial flock through perilous times of frightening persecution and even martyrdom. When other clerical leaders fled to save their own necks, he remained, risking an early death in order to stay on the job for his faithful flock. His courageous yet humble spirit made it hard for the enemies of Christianity to carry out their purges. Eventually they stopped trying.

Volumes have been written about the various ways in which Nicholas' life spared and redeemed multitudes of people. "He destroyed pagan temples, forced a governor, Eustathius, to admit he had been bribed to condemn three innocent men to death (Nicholas saved them), and appeared in a dream to Emperor Constantine to tell the Emperor that three imperial officers condemned to death at Constantinople were innocent. (Constantine freed them the next morning.) While he was Bishop of Myra, a terrible famine afflicted the country. Full of compassion for his people, the Bishop not only obtained a miraculous supply of bread for the multitude, but also visited every part of his vast diocese to acquaint himself with the condition of all his people."

His exceptional life affected so many people from all walks of life that he became the Patron Saint of seafarers, scholars, bankers, pawnbrokers (the three gold globes symbolize the three gold bags he gave to the maidens), jurists, brewers, coopers, travelers, perfumers, unmarried girls, brides, robbers and especially - children. Each of these categories has a legend attached to it. Many involve a story in which the good Bishop acted and thus saved lives. History attributes no fewer than 21 different miracles to him.

His selfless generosity, courage in the face of terrifying adversity, and kindly intervention on behalf of any needy person who crossed his path make him a worthy subject for consideration during Christmas. Perhaps no other saint better exemplifies the true spirit of Jesus, a man who would live and die for his friends and even his enemies.


Ken Unger is President of and founder of, where you can learn more about him and his transformative ministry. click here ,
 "Ken's new book, The Ultimate Breakthrough, goes beyond self help to self healing. You can preview it at  The Ultimate Breakthrough "
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