In 1897, Francis P. Church wrote a now-famous editorial in which he told little Virginia O'Hanlon that indeed there was a Santa Claus. Church wrote in the Sun:
"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist…No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever."
About AD 260 there was born a certain man named Nicholas who became well known for his generosity and his love of children. Raised in the city of Patara on the coast of what is now Turkey, Nicholas traveled to Palestine as a young man. He later became bishop of the nearby town of Myra. When Emperor Diocletian focused on persecuting Christians, Nicholas was tortured and imprisoned for his faith in Christ. According to tradition, Nicholas was released by Emperor Constantine and later attended the First Council of Nicea in AD 325.
Stories of Nicholas' generosity and kindness continued to spread long after his death. During the Middle Ages, Nicholas became patron saint of charitable fraternities and children, and legends sprouted about his feats of good will. After the Reformation, the legend of St. Nicholas died out everywhere except in Holland. When the Dutch Reformed Christians immigrated to the United States, they brought the traditions of "Sinterklaas" with them. St. Nicholas still rides into Dutch towns every November, dressed in his bishop's garb.
Later in Germany, St. Nicholas would traditionally arrive on his Feast Day, December 6th. A man dressed as St. Nick would go door to door loaded with a giant sack. He gave presents to those children who had been good during the year, but a lump of coal was the lot of bad children.
The visual image and personality of St. Nicholas changed during the years. His red outfit was derived from the red colors bishops wore, but he was often portrayed as tall and thin. The modern version of St. Nick as a plump cheery man originated in a series of Thomas Nast engravings in Harper'' Weekly during and after the American Civil War.
This is a season during which we remember that God sent His Son to earth to be born as a little human baby. The Creator of the universe was made subject to all the troubles and difficulties of this life and ultimately died for our sins. Because God gave us His Son, we all have access to eternal life with Him. There is no greater gift.
While Santa is often seen as a diversion that takes the focus off of Jesus (and rightly so) the real St. Nicholas was no distraction. He was a man who served Jesus with his whole life.
Mr. Church was correct in his letter to little Virginia, though perhaps not in the way he intended. The original St. Nicholas, the man who loved children and cared for the poor, that man was real. That Nicholas does live and live forever - for he was a follower of Jesus Christ.
The Feast of Stephen - Koinonia House
St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra - The St. Nicholas Society
Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus - Newseum.org
Thomas Nast and Santa Claus - The Morristown Library
Thomas Nast Gallery 1863-1866 - Great Caricatures