2001 Religious News Service Article
Dec 22, 2001
Memo to Santa
Claus: When packing your sleigh on Christmas Eve, Jim Rosenthal would
prefer that you passed him by. You need not bother with Carol Myers'
house, either. And
please, if you know what's good for you, stay
away from Sinter Knicker's chimney.
No offense, but
they would much prefer a visit by St. Nicholas.
It's a conflict
as perennial as the shopping mall Santa -- what to do with the North Pole's
most famous resident on Christmas, a holiday that celebrates the
birth of Jesus Christ. A small but growing band of Christians has
an answer: Dump Claus altogether and bring back the original St.
St. Nicholas, a
fourth-century Christian bishop in what is now Turkey, was known for his
charity and kind heart. As the story goes, he rescued three poor women from
prostitution by slipping gold coins down their chimney -- landing in their
stockings drying by the fire - - so their father could afford a dowry
The bishop of
Myra became the patron saint of seafarers and pawnbrokers, brides and
children. More than 1,200 churches are named for him, dedicated to his
persecuted faith and his good works.
Along the way,
the Nicholas legend split into two camps -- one holds special devotion
for the pious priest, especially among Orthodox Christians; the
other thinks of him as just another version of Santa Claus. Sinter
Knicker wants to change that.
As founder of
the "Anti-Santa Love Nicholas Society," Knicker literally thinks Santa
should be "sued for consumer and historical fraud, and exiled to Siberia." His
disdain for Santa Claus runs so deep he willingly accepts the label of
"I'm more than
annoyed," Knicker, 41, said from his home in Maine Maine, where
Santa has been banned for good. "I honestly hate what Santa Claus has
become. People hear that and they think you're anti-children, they think
you're anti-gifts, anti- commercialism. But those are side issues. The
issue is that Christ isn't getting the glory."
So seven years
ago, Knicker founded his "loose-knit group of kindred spirits" while
serving as a missionary in China. He concedes he hasn't made much
progress because "anyone who hears anti-Santa thinks I'm some kind of nut."
But there is an
immensely serious side to Knicker's campaign, and he is not alone. A
similar, although more serious, St. Nicholas Society was
formed two years ago in
London by Jim Rosenthal, press secretary for the archbishop of
Canterbury, George Carey.
fledgling society has received Carey's blessing -- so much so that Carey's
wife, Eileen, presided at the annual Dec. 6 St. Nicholas Day festival at
Canterbury Cathedral. And devotion to St. Nicholas is catching on throughout
the Anglican Communion.
sees him, St. Nicholas never rode a sleigh, although he probably had a
beard. The overstuffed red suit is replaced by a bishop's regalia,
complete with miter and shepherd's staff.
opposed to Santa Claus or Father Christmas or whatever you want to call him,"
said Rosenthal, who is originally from Chicago. "But we believe children
should know his real name."
The origins of
the modern Santa Claus are murky. Dutch immigrants brought the tradition of
St. Nicholas as "Sinter Klass," which had been grafted onto the Kriss
Kringle and Nicholas legends from Europe. Along the way, Claus acquired a
flying sleigh and reindeer. It wasn't until 1939 that a certain
red-nosed reindeer was added.
By 1822, he was
immortalized as rosy-cheeked, "chubby and plump" in " 'Twas the Night
so much the person of Santa Claus that annoys Rosenthal, but the
commercialism he has come to represent.
"The secular verity compels us to buy and shop 'til we drop,"
said, "whereas the Christian verity expressed in St. Nicholas is to
and share and maybe drop to your knees in prayer."
ASLaN Note: Jim Rosenthal
is the co-founder of the
very best St. Nicholas website in the world! St. Nicholas