I’m not sure how it happened, but the modern picture of slightly inebriated jolly old St. Nick, with rosy red checks, ear to ear smile, and a belly like a bowl full of jelly and beer, couldn’t be further from the truth of who St. Nick really was.
St. Nicholas (AD 240-343) was the bishop of Myra in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and lived through the brutal Diocletian persecutions of the early 4th century. While many Christians gave in to their torturers and denied Christ, Nicholas held strong to his confession. As a result, he was beaten, exiled, and ultimately thrown in prison, where he continued to be tortured. All the while, bishop Nicholas maintained his faith in his crucified Savior and lived to see the day when persecution of Christians was banned at the Edict of Milan in AD 313.
A decade later—and this is where it gets juicy—Nicholas was one of the bishops who attended the first ecumenical council at Nicea in AD 325. Emperor Constantine, newly converted (?), presided over the meeting, and several leaders were given the floor to expound on their theological views. Most notorious was Arius, who was famous for denying the deity of Christ. As Arius carried on, old St. Nick was more aggravated than jolly, as he squirmed irritably in his seat listening to Arius’s heresy. Nicholas was committed to (what would be) the orthodox position that Christ was fully human and fully divine—Nick spilt a few pints of blood for this conviction. So finally, Nicholas couldn’t take it. He got up from his seat, marched to the front where Arius was spouting off, reared back and straight socked Arius right in the face. He then danced around the floored Arius shouting: “Daaaang, you just got Kris Kringled, son!”
Okay, well, I’m not sure if this is exactly how Nick celebrated, but the rest is true as far as I can tell.
What I find fascinating is that our society has replaced Jesus with Santa, when all along the original St. Nick would be horrified at the spineless consumerism of the American Christmas, or holiday, season. Nicholas bled for Jesus. He was tortured for Jesus. And when Jesus’s name was being attacked, he got into the ring for Jesus.
When we replace the birth of King Jesus with Santa Claus, we bring shame on both the King and his most feisty defender: St. Nick, aka Santa Claus, the dude who cold socked a bishop in the face for theological treason.
So you better watch out this Christmas season. Don’t make the mistake of Arius and miss the real meaning of Christmas. St. Nick is making a list and checking it twice, and if your theology is not in order, you better watch your back, cause jolly old St. Nick may drop down your chimney and open up the can on you.
Merry Christmas, and let’s get ready to rumble!
For a brilliant retelling of this story, see http://www.patheos.com/blogs/badcatholic/2011/12/on-the-st-nick-punch.html