Adam English on the Real Santa Claus, St. Nicholas of Myra
Date: December 24th, 2012

Who was St. Nicholas?  Did he really exist?  And how did he become the “Santa Claus” that we know today?  Prof. Adam English, associate professor in the Department of Theology and Philosophy at Campbell University, opens up his latest book The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus and tells us the story of this fascinating early Church leader.  We learn that St. Nicholas of Myra lived in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries in the area that is now southwest Turkey.  Nicholas grew up in a wealthy family, allowing him the luxury of pursuing an education and becoming a clergy member in the fast-expanding Christian Church at a time when persecution of Christians was common.  Prof. English relays Nicholas’s most famous act of charity that earned him the reputation as a charitable gift-giver.  The story involves Nicholas tossing three bags of coins, on separate days, through the open window of a destitute man on the verge of having to sell his daughters into a less than desirable life.  Although meant to be anonymous (something unusual for the times), Nicholas’s generosity is discovered and becomes the stuff of legend.  We explore how this legend was transformed over time to become the image of Santa Claus that we know today.  Adam describes how St. Nicholas, a celebrated saint in The Netherlands, was used by Dutch-Americans to “tame” the rather raucous celebrations that came in early winter.  We then follow the tranformation of Nicholas’s imagery as artists such as Thomas Nast and Haddon Sundblom paint him as the jolly and rotund figure decked out in red and white that we know today.  Irrespective that contemporary imagery, we continue to discover what type of man Nicholas was.  While not a major player in the Church around the turn of the 4th century, we do see how Nicholas suffered persecution (literal torture) yet remained stalwart in his faith.  As bishop of Myra, he was a strong advocate for justice and lower taxes, as well as becoming known as someone who cared for children.  Throughout this discussion we pick up a number of interesting tidbits of information about St. Nicholas including his intersting relation to moneylenders and pawnbrokers, and Tony provides his own modified rendition of T’was the Night Before Christmas!  Prof. English finishes with his thoughts on whether or not devout Christians should celebrate the legend of Santa Claus, and informs us where you can find a recipe for one his favorite Christmas cookies.  A fun, educational, and tasty podcast indeed!  Recorded: December 17, 2012.


Prof. Adam English’s biography at Campbell University.

The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus, official webpage with cookie recipe and Prof. English’s blog.

Theology Remixed: Christianity as Story, Game, Language Culture, by Adam English.

The Possibility of Christian Philosophy: Maurice Blondel at the Intersection of Philosophy and Theology, by Adam English.


Brian O’Neel on Saint Who? Some Holy Uknowns.

Tracy McKenzie on The First Thanksgiving.

Jim Papandrea on the Early Church Fathers.

Jon Sweeney on It’s A Wonderful Life (hey, it is a Christmas theme!)


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