Keeping Christ in Christmas – St. Nicholas

The origin of Santa Claus begins about 300 years after the birth of Jesus with Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, an area in present day Turkey. By all accounts St. Nicholas was a generous man who loved Jesus and was particularly devoted to children. After his death around 340 A.D. he was buried in Myra, but in 1087 Italian sailors purportedly stole his remains and removed them to Bari, Italy, greatly increasing St. Nicholas’ popularity throughout Europe.

His kindness and reputation for generosity gave rise to claims that he could perform miracles thus increasing devotion to him. St. Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia, where he was known by his red cape, flowing white beard, and bishop’s mitre. In Greece, he is the patron saint of sailors; in France he was the patron of lawyers; and in Belgium the patron of children and travellers. Thousands of churches across Europe were dedicated to him and some time around the 12th century an official church holiday was created in his honor. The Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated December 6 and the day was marked by gift-giving and charity.

After the Reformation, European followers of St. Nicholas dwindled, but the legend was kept alive in Holland where the Dutch spelling of his name Sint Nikolaas was eventually transformed to Sinterklaas. Dutch children would leave their wooden shoes by the fireplace, and Sinterklaas would reward good children by placing treats in their shoes. Dutch colonists brought this tradition with them to America in the 17th century and here the Anglican name of Santa Claus emerged.

In 1822 Clement C. Moore composed the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published as The Night Before Christmas as a gift for his children. In it, he portrayed Santa Claus with “…a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly. He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf…” Other countries feature different gift-bearers for the Christmas or Advent season: La Befana in Italy, Christkindl or the Christ Child in Switzerland and Austria, and Father Christmas in England. In France, the gift giver is known as Pere Noël, Father Christmas or the Christ Child. In Spain, Puerto Rico, and Mexico The Three Kings supposedly bring gifts at Christmas. Still, the figure of Santa Claus as a jolly, benevolent, plump man in a red suit described in Moore’s poem remains with us today and is recognized by children and adults alike around the world.

So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?

When you think of Santa Claus, remember that he was a real person who heard about Jesus, decided to follow Him, then secretly and unselfishly poured out love on people around him. Because he loved Jesus so much and did so many kind deeds, he was called a ’saint’, meaning “one who is separated for a special task”. We too have been made ’saints’, but not by anything that we have done. We are made saints, “separated for a special task”, when we embrace Jesus as our Savior. Nicholas gave because Jesus first gave His life for us. Santa should remind us to unselfishly give the gift of love to others and to God, not just at Jesus’ birthday, but throughout the year.

A great children’s book about this is Santa, Are You For Real? by Harold Myra.


Keeping Christ in Christmas – “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer”

The Chicago-based Montgomery Ward Department Stores had been purchasing and distributing children’s coloring books as Christmas gifts for their customers for several years. In 1939, Montgomery Ward asked one of their own employees to create a book for them, thus saving money. So, 34-year old copywriter Robert L. May wrote the story of Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and 2.4 million copies were handed out that year. Despite the wartime paper shortage, over 6 million copies had been distributed by 1946.

To create the story of the misfit reindeer, May drew, in part, from the story of “The Ugly Duckling” and, also, from his own experiences as an often taunted, small, frail youth. He tested his story, written in a series of rhyming couplets, on his 4-year old daughter Barbara. She loved it! Though Rollo and Reginald were considered as names for the reindeer, May settled on Rudolph.

Sadly, Robert May’s wife died around the time he was creating Rudolph, leaving May deeply in debt due to medical bills. However, he was able to persuade Sewell Avery, Montgomery Ward’s corporate president, to turn the copyright over to him in January 1947, thus ensuring May’s financial security.

May’s story Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was printed commercially in 1947 and in 1948 a nine-minute cartoon of the story was shown in theaters. When May’s brother-in-law, songwriter Johnny Marks, wrote the lyrics and melody for the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, the Rudolph phenomenon was born. Turned down by many musical artists afraid to contend with the legend of Santa Claus, the song was recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 at the urging of Autry’s wife. The song sold two million copies that year, going on to become one of the best-selling songs of all time, second only to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”. The 1964 television special about Rudolph, narrated by Burl Ives, remains a holiday favorite to this day and Rudolph himself has become a much-loved Christmas icon.

So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?

When you think of ‘Rudolph’, remember that Rudolph, although he was mistreated by his fellow reindeer, was drafted by Santa because they could not see clearly the path that they needed to go. Rudolph safely guided the sleigh.

Think about these verses:

Psalm 31:3 For You are my rock and my fortress; therefore, for Your name’s sake, lead me and guide me.
Psalm 32:8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye.
Psalm 48:14 For this is God, our God forever and ever; He will be our guide even to death.

Jesus, although mistreated by a world of people who can not find their way, has been sent by the Father to safely guide each of us through life.


Keeping Christ in Christmas – Poinsettia

A native Mexican plant, the poinsettia, was named after Joel R. Poinsett, U.S. ambassador to Mexico, who brought the plant to America in 1828. Poinsettias were likely used by Mexican Franciscans in their 17th century Christmas celebrations. One legend has it that a young Mexican boy, on his way to visit the village Nativity scene, realized he had no gift for the Christ child. He gathered pretty green branches from along the road and brought them to the church. Though the other children mocked him, when the leaves were laid at the manger, a beautiful star-shaped, red flower appeared on each branch.

The bright red petals, often mistaken for flowers, are actually the upper leaves of the plant that transform from green to red as the days get shorter. The plants need darkness from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. starting Oct. 1 and continuing until color shows around early to mid-December. They turn red just in time for the Christmas season as even nature celebrates the birth of Christ!!

So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?

When you look at your poinsettia, think about Romans 12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Let the poinsettia’s transformation of green leaves to scarlet remind you of our transformation from sinner to child of God because of the coming of the Christ Child. Let the red color remind you of His blood He shed for us.


Keeping Christ in Christmas – Holly

In Northern Europe, it was believed that ghosts and demons could be heard howling in the winter winds. Boughs of holly were thought to have magical powers since they remained green through the harsh winter; they were often placed over the doors of homes to drive evil away. Greenery was also brought indoors to freshen the air and brighten the mood during the long, dreary winter.

So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?

When you see the holly, be reminded that Jesus is the one that drives away the Enemy.
1 John 4:4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because
He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

When you feel the pain of touching the pointed leaves of the holly which were said to represent the crown of thorns Christ wore while on the cross, remember the humiliation and persecution Christ endured as He wore it, in order to give us the right to boldly come to the most holy God.

When you see the red berries which are said to symbolize the blood that Christ shed, remember
Romans 3:25 (NLT) For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to
satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that
Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us…
It was the blood of Jesus that defeated the Enemy then and now, and has secured our forgiveness of sin.

Take advantage of every opportunity to relate Christ to the traditions of Christmas!

Keeping Christ in Christmas – Christmas Stockings

Remember – we are trying to use the tangible, traditional symbols of Christmas to teach our children the intangible, true meaning of the season. As you hang your stockings, relate this story. You can read about this in the book by Harold Myra called Santa, Are You For Real? Click on the name to see this available at

The tradition of hanging Christmas stockings began with a story in ancient days about a kind man who had three daughters. In those days a dowry or money had to be given before a girl could marry. When these girls fell in love and wanted to marry, the poor father could not afford their dowries.

A teenage boy named Nickolas (who later the Church made Saint Nickolas) heard about the plight of the daughters. Because he loved Jesus so much, he wanted to give as Jesus did; one night Nick secretly put a bag of gold in each of the daughters’ stockings that were hung out to dry. The next morning the family found the gold bags and the daughters were married and lived happily ever after. Since then, children have been hanging Christmas stockings.

So how do we transform this to make it a reminder of the birth of Jesus Christ?

The origin of the Christmas stocking shows us how these young girls went from being poor and destitute to being rich. When you look at the Christmas stockings, think about
2 Corinthians 8:9 – For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
Jesus left the riches of heaven in order to give His life on the Cross for us, so we can have the gift of abundant life. This is the greatest message of Christmas!