The image of Saint Nicholas has changed many times through the years. He has always reflected people’s longings and needs, whether that be a handful of grain, a safe port in a storm, or a gesture of love, Santa Claus is part of the evolving image. At his best, he stands for virtues that Saint Nicholas champions: compassion, service, selflessness, largeness of spirit.
There is one essential truth in the stories of Nicholas and Santa Claus: the goodness of the gift offered with no expectation of anything in return. The value of three bags tossed through a window in Patara long ago does not lie in the gold they contained. The act of giving and the effects of the act make those bags priceless. That same spirit lives in our time in a parent or other adult who with secret joy watches a wonder-struck child discover on Christmas morning that Santa has paid a nighttime visit.
Santa Claus is, in a very real sense, the result of a Christ-inspired goodness that has rippled across seventeen centuries, from Nicholas’s time to our own. Despite secularization and commercialization, Santa Claus is a manifestation of Nicholas’s decision to give to others. The history of Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus is a kind of miracle in itself. It is a legacy that resonates with God’s love.