Franciscan Spirit Blog

Santa Claus: A Figure of Generosity

Saint Nicholas of Myra painting

A Quiet Reflection from Pope Francis

First of all, I would like, with you, to thank the Lord for all his gifts. For it is true that in these days one thinks of Christmas presents, but in reality the one who gives the true gift is he, our Father, who gives us Jesus. Our presents, this beautiful tradition of exchanging presents, should express precisely this: a reflection of the unique gift that is his Son made man and born of the Virgin Mary.

A Christmas Reality

The tradition of Santa Claus developed in many cultures from the actions of the fourth-century Saint Nicholas, a bishop who helped many poor people with gifts to rescue them from destitution. Like all the saints, this holy figure lived the Gospel and followed the example of Jesus, giving freely to others and showering gifts on them in imitation of a gracious God.

Over the centuries, we’ve confused Santa and God, or perhaps we’ve created both in an image that was never intended to be theirs. Both are portrayed as keeping a careful account of each good and bad thing we do, weighing our actions against a standard of perfection, recording a black mark each time we make a mistake. It may be a reflection of a strongly authoritarian culture, or it might just be a parent’s desperate attempt to keep antsy kids from misbehaving in the excitement and anticipation of the Christmas season: “Santa’s elves are watching you!”

Pope Francis reminds us that God’s attitude toward us is far more one of mercy than of judgment. Forgiveness and generosity are the hallmarks of the divine. The psalms tell us that God puts behind himself all our sins. Gifts, by their nature, are something we don’t deserve and can’t earn. And the greatest gift-giver is our God. If this is what our faith tells us, then our Christmas traditions should reflect this.

Your Christmas Gift Today

We don’t always realize how many of the things we learn as children stay with us into adulthood and color our perspectives. If you have a tradition of Santa Claus or Father Christmas in your family, take a lovingly critical look at how it plays out with your children and grandchildren through the season.

Try to resist the temptation to use Santa as a threat against misbehavior and instead encourage them to imitate Santa’s generosity. Take a few minutes to recall the way Santa was presented when you were a child. Keep the good traits and gently let go of the negatives.

Peace of Christmas

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