OK kids, gather around the tree. You’ve asked if Santa Claus is real and so I’m going to answer the question. Now, I want you to keep this to yourselves because some other kids’ parents either don’t want their kids to know the truth or they want to be the ones to tell their own kids but one way or the other, just keep this between us.

Life is complicated and there are not often simple answers. This is one of those times because there is a long answer and a short answer to your question. I’m going to give you both and you’re just going to have to be big kids and listen to the whole thing because the truth is like that; you have to know all of it, not just a part.

The short answer is: NO. There is not a fat man who sneaks into our house on Christmas Eve night and leaves presents. It’s really just Mom and I. But there is another longer answer. Listen to it and see if you don’t agree that YES, Santa Claus is really real.

Think back to a time long ago; longer than most of us can even understand – back to about the year 325. Think about how long ago that was and what was going on back then. Jesus had only died a few hundred years before, the Roman Empire was still around and there wasn’t even a “church” like we think of. Christians had organized themselves but there wasn’t a Roman Catholic church around yet like we think of today. A man lived then named Nicholas who had been born in the ancient Lycian seaport city of Patara. That’s in a part of the world that is now Turkey but back then, it was a country by itself and was pretty well known: the apostle Paul had visited there. He was born into a wealthy family but both parents died and he was raised by a group of early Christians in a monastery. The church was beginning to organize itself and there were leaders called Bishops. Nicholas became one of these as an adult after traveling in Egypt and Palestine. He became the Bishop in the city of Myra.

He was put into prison by the Roman emperor Diocletian for being a Christian leader but was later released under the reign of the emperor Constantine. Constantine was the one who became a Christian himself and who laid the groundwork for the formation of the Catholic Church later on. This is how Nicholas got to be Bishop of Myra. He was a pretty important person; he actually was at the council of Nicaea which is where the Bible was first put together in the form we have it now. Imagine! A time before there was a Bible! And Nicholas was one of the ones who helped put it together. For this and other things, he was later made into a saint and so we now call him Saint Nicholas.

Many stories are told about him that tell of how generous he was with the money that he inherited from his parents when they died. The most famous story is one in which there were three young girls in Myra whose father had borrowed money from someone and was having trouble paying it back. Remember how long ago that was and how there weren’t the same kinds of laws then that we have now. It was a much meaner time to live in. Usually, whoever had money made up his own rules and if anybody didn’t like what they did, too bad. Kids weren’t treated very well; sometimes they were sold and treated like slaves. These three girls were about to have that happen to them because that’s the deal their father made in order to borrow money. They would probably have been sent to work as servants in the rich man’s house (sort of like Cinderella was) but back then, even worse things could have happened to them.

Nicholas knew of this since he was an important person in the town and on the night before the money was due, he snuck into their house and put the money into their stockings that were drying over the fireplace. It was enough to cover the loan their father owed and they were able to stay with their family. I’m not sure why Nicholas didn’t just knock on the door during the day and give the father the money. Maybe he didn’t want to embarrass the family. Maybe he thought the father wasn’t all that honest and couldn’t be trusted with the money – after all he had just arranged to sell his daughters into slavery for money. Who knows? Somehow, they found out because we have the story today but, at the time, Nicholas kept things secret.

As the Bishop, he would have worn red robes. He was made into a saint after he died and was remembered every year until a time came when most people wanted to forget about the Catholic Church. That’s another story. But, the name Saint Nicholas was always remembered in Holland where the name (in the Dutch language) was Sinterklass. Some of those people who came to America changed it into English as Santa Claus. It’s the same person though. Now why we do all this at Christmas time is another story. Plus, this isn’t all that historically accurate but it’s kind of all connected in a realistic way.

Now, how about now? Saint Nicholas died and he doesn’t live at the North Pole and he doesn’t fly a sleigh around and sneak into our houses each year. But there is a miracle that lives on. Every year, all us parents get the urge to surprise our kids with presents. Think about it: it would be so much easier to just buy kids toys all through the year. We would be able to spread out the cost and we wouldn’t have to hide them and sneak around and go to all that extra trouble. Why do we do it? Because that’s the spirit of Saint Nicholas at work almost 2000 years later! We can’t help ourselves; we deck out our houses with lights and trees and we do all sorts of other fun stuff and we top it all off with giving gifts and giving all the credit to 2000 year old Bishop.

And that’s why there really is a Santa Claus. It’s not a real man but instead a real feeling; something magical or miraculous that makes us want to make kids happy.

There aren’t many traditions that have stayed the same since the time of Jesus. All the laws people live under have changed many times. The things we believe in have changed. For example, people used to believe you got malaria by breathing stinky air; now we know it’s caused by mosquitoes. Life is totally different except for a few things. One of those is our belief in Jesus. Another is Bible; it hasn’t changed. And another is our belief in the tradition of Saint Nicholas – giving gifts. That’s why we celebrate these things together. That’s the miracle – that these things haven’t changed in 2000 years.