The short answer is yes.
In the Maronite Church on 6 December we commemorate the feast of St Nicholas the Wonderworker (Mar Zakhyo in Syriac) Santa Claus is based on the life of St Nicholas.
We know from Syriac Church history that St Nicholas lived in the third and fourth centuries. His parents were devout and had been childless. When St Nicholas was born they gave thanks and dedicated him to God.
From his childhood he focused on studies of the Scripture and when he grew up he chose to be a priest. He quickly gained fame for his kind-heartedness towards the flock and those who were afflicted. He distributed all his inheritance to the poor. Eventually he was selected as Bishop of Myra. As Bishop he continued his works of charity and teaching of the faith.
One of his popular acts of charity related to a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters to marry them. The man was considering selling his daughters into prostitution so they would not die of hunger. St Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate nights. The third time the man was watching and he found out it was St Nicholas. The man bowed down at St Nicholas’s feet and thanked him. St Nicholas asked him to thank the Lord who had put the thought in his heart. He was known for sneaking out at night and secretly leaving money for the poor.
St Nicholas helped the most marginalized. In some Eastern traditions, on the eve of this feast, children put out their shoes for St Nicholas to come at night. They wake up to find gold coins in their shoes (this may perhaps describe the tradition of the stocking).
We should consider the life of St Nicholas on a deeper level. In our society Santa Claus has become the opposite of the humble and charitable image of the good Bishop St Nicholas. He has come to represent the commercialisation of Christmas. Here are some ideas for families to rediscover the true Santa Claus:
- Celebrate St Nicholas’s feast day on 6 December. Tell the story of St Nicholas and about his acts of charity and mercy. Have children leave out their shoes on that eve of the feast and place coins in them overnight.
- Emulate St Nicholas’ work. Instead of receiving, be like St Nicholas and give. Give to someone in need. Make a donation to charity.
- If you are going to have someone dress up as Santa Claus at Christmas, give them a staff to represent a Bishop’s crozier and a mitre (Bishop’s head wear) in order that Santa may look more like the Bishop he was. That might initiate conversation so that people can better understand who the real Santa is.