Ask a Priest


Dec 10, 2016

So I was wondering about Christmas. I know about the clearly Catholic Christmas which is celebrating God’s birth as Jesus. And,I know about Saint Nicholas and I’m guessing anything relating to the real Saint Nicholas is fine for Christmas but what about Santa Claus or is that considered paganism? Also, I know about Saint Boniface and the tree but what about giving and receiving Christmas presents or is that considered wrong?

Thank you.

Asked at 10:41 pm on December 10th 2016

Hi Eric, there’s a great story about St Nicholas – let’s not bother whether it’s a much later legend or not, the fact is it may be the origin of the traditions around Santa Claus (whose name of course is a garbled version of Sankt Nikolaus). According to that legend, a man had three daughters, but was too poor to provide them with a dowry – meaning that no one would marry them.

When he heard of this, Nicholas wanted to help, but secretly, so they wouldn’t be humiliated by being seen to have needed charitable donations. So, over three different nights, he threw a purse filed with gold coins through their house’s window. The father wanted to find out who the benefactor was, but Nicholas wanted him to thank only God, not himself. So, having heard of the father’s plan, he dropped the third bag down the chimney instead. Another version says that the bag of gold fell into a pair of stockings left to dry by the fire. So the Santa Claus story we now have is deeply rooted in a Christian legend, if not exactly history.

A young parent recently asked me was it wrong for her to tell her children about Santa, and I was saying that in that legend, St Nicholas wanted the girls to thank God, not him. And surely there’s something beautiful in the parents not taking any credit for what their young children receive, which in their innocence may be a first awareness of the complete gratuitousness of God’s gifts to us.

I really can’t see how giving and receiving Christmas presents, as grown ups do with one another, could be in any way wrong – Christmas gives us a chance to express our appreciation of one another. Very best and happy Christmas, Fr Brendan

Replied at 09:27 pm on December 15th 2016