Essay / Theology

Saint Nicholas / Santa Claus Songs

Santa Claus, bless his heart, may be a corporate shill who is constantly used to elbow Christ out of Christmas, but he is based on a historical figure who had a different agenda.

St. Nicholas of Myra, a bishop in what we now call Turkey, lived in the fourth century. He must have been quite a guy, because while we have pretty much no reliable documents about him from his own time period, he became very popular in peoples’ memories in later centuries. He’s still a fun and inspiring figure to learn about. He was remembered for acts of generosity (tossing gold in a window to rescue three girls from lives of prostitution), miracles (including flying around like a superhero centuries after his death to rescue storm-tossed ships at sea), and good theology. The best story about him is that he went to the council of Nicaea in 325 and became so incensed with the heresies of Arius that he broke up the good order of the council by crossing the room and slapping Arius in the face. From there the story gets pretty chaotic: he may have been expelled for disorderly conduct, and Jesus and Mary may have appeared in a vision to cause the council to re-admit him. Okay, I admit I doubt most of that, and if it comes down to hard evidence, we can’t even prove that Nicholas of Myra was at Nicaea because his name’s not on the list of attendees. But after all these years of seeing Santa Claus as a seasonal rival to Jesus Christ, it sure is refreshing to think of him instead as a theological advocate of the central Christian doctrine which we remember at Christmas time, the incarnation of the Son of God.

Santa Claus: Defender of orthodox nicene trinitarian theology. It’s an inspiring thought for the Christmas season, and it makes it possible for us to sing all those Santa songs with newly recovered religious meaning:

Jolly Old St. Nicholas (to the tune of “Jolly Old St. Nicholas”)

Jolly Old St. Nicholas,
slap a heretic
Take some solid doctrine out
from your bag of tricks
This first ec-u-men-i-cal
council is a blast,
Christ is con-sub-stan-ti-al,
teach it to us fast.

Jolly Old St. Nicholas,
Whisper what you brought,
Doctrines that will bring us cheer
If they’re rightly taught.
Incarnation, Trinity,
Golly, that’s a lot,
But there never was a time
When the Word was not.

Back at Nicaea (to the tune of “Up on the Housetop”)

Back at Nicaea, Three-Two-Five
When St. Nick was still alive
He was a bishop wise and gracious
Hanging out with Athanasius
Ho, Ho, Ho! You oughta know
Ho, Ho, Ho! You oughta know, oh
Santa was not on the roof, roof, roof,
He was defending the gospel truth.

He came to stop a renegade
Preacher who taught the Son was made;
Nick knew that it would be quite odd
If the redeemer were less than God.
Ho, Ho, Ho-Mo-Ousios!
Hey Arius, Don’t you confuse us,
Santa was there with verve and moxie,
Taking good care of orthodoxy.

Arian doctrine was so bad
It made poor old Santa mad
Laying a finger aside his nose,
Up from his seat bishop Claus arose.
“Ho, Ho, Ho, sub-ordination?
Ho, Ho, Ho, there goes salvation.”
Then with some mighty pop, pop, pops,
Saint Nick was busting the bad guy’s chops.

Here Comes Nicholas (to the tune of “Here Comes Santa Claus”)

Here comes Nicholas,
Here comes Nicholas,
Straight from Turkey (I guess)
He’s got a hankerin’ for Arian spankerin’
He’ll sort out this mess.
He’ll save girls from degradation with anonymous cash,
Stops your storm-tossed ship from sinkin’
When Nicholas comes in a flash.

Here comes Nicholas,
Here comes Nicholas,
From the legends of old,
We’re not sure if he ever existed,
But this is what we’re told.
Just admit that it would be cool if these legends were right,
You don’t want a bag of coal
If Santa Claus comes tonight.

Here comes Nicholas
Here comes Nicholas
Learn his Nicholas ways.
Give away gold to young and old,
Work wonders and sing praise.
Zeal for the name of Christ consumed him, he did theology right
Climbin’ down chimneys, singing’ songies and hymnies
That’s Nicholas Claus tonight.

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