Friday, December 23, 2005

The Dark Side of Santa Claus

St. Nicholas of Myra, the model for our modern Santa, was a staunch opponent of Arianism.

According to an early history quoted by Wikipedia, at the Council of Nicea, "after Arius had presented his case against Jesus' divinity to the Council, Nicholas hit Arius in the face out of indignation. Nicholas was kicked out of the Council for this offence, and jailed as well. However, according to this account, that night the Virgin Mary appeared in a vision to many of the bishops of the Council, telling them to forgive Nicholas, for he had done it out of love for her Son. They released Nicholas and allowed him back into the process the next day."

Either that, or she told them that without him they might not have enough votes.

Notwithstanding the original St. Nick's willingness to abandon his well-known compassion and resort to political violence in defense of Christian orthodoxy, the modern elf, derived from a more recent Dutch characterization of Sinterklaas, apparently sports some remarkably non-Christian bloodlines. Here's Wikipedia again, on Sinterklaas: "Some elements of this part of the Saint Nicholas tradition could be traced back to the Germanic god Wodan (Odin). The appearance is similar to some portrayals of this god. In the Saint Nicholas tradition in the Netherlands he rides a horse over the rooftops, and this may be derived from Odin's riding through the sky. Also his assistants, the Zwarte Pieten ('Black Peters') may be a remnant of the raven that accompanied Wodan."

So on balance for us UU's he's a mixed bag. Arians and Socinians like yours truly may need to rethink their benign view of his character, while neo-pagans may wish to chuckle in the quiet assurance that "he's really one of us".


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