His Having Been Co-opted for Commercial Purposes Notwithstanding, One Has to Admit That Even the “Legendary,” Commercialized Saint Nicholas Actually is a Pretty Good Guy
By Ken K. Gourdin
Other posts I have written this month have alluded to the commercialization of Christmas. Saint Nicholas – or at least the corruption of him, as wrought by various companies for their own commercial purposes (Coca-cola, anyone?) – has been complicit in this commercialization. (I’m actually a regular consumer of Coca-cola products: Does that make me a hypocrite? Perhaps. Maybe I should forego such consumption during the Christmas season?)
As I have also noted elsewhere, it’s very important – notwithstanding the commercialization of Christmas – that we not forget “the real reason for the season,” which has nothing to do with a jolly, rotund fellow with a deep, infectious belly laugh who’s clad in a red suit, and who’s assisted by innumerable green-clad elves, along with “eight tiny reindeer.” I understand why commercializing what, for many (notwithstanding our society’s increasing secularization) still is supposed to be a sacred occasion has turned so many of us into Grinches.
That said, long before any business enterprise had co-opted him to hawk the enterprise’s wares, and long before the world had turned this former “holy day” increasingly secular, there was (independent of the legend, and of any uses to which the legend may be put – whether those purposes be commercial purposes, or other, even baser purposes) a real person by the name and title of Saint Nicholas, who did exist in real life.
Since I’m not Catholic, I’m all but completely ignorant of the ins and outs of beatification. However, I do know that, generally, one must be a pretty good person (an understatement, I know! If you happen to be Catholic, don’t hold that against me!) and must have three miracles attributed to him by people the Roman Catholic Church considers well-attested, reliable sources in order to qualify.
Thus, since one needs to have performed at least three miracles and, in general, must have lived a good Christian life in order to qualify for Catholic sainthood, even the “un-commercialized” “free-from-legend” Saint Nicolas must have been a pretty good guy. (Yes, more understatement! Don’t hate me!) Saint Nicolas was the Bishop of Myrna, and was credited with a number of miracles involving sailors and children, thus becoming the patron saint of both groups.
Truth be told, since he walked the earth nearly 1,700 years before I was born, I have no idea what the real Saint Nicholas was like. Purported miracles and affinity for children notwithstanding, maybe he actually was a little grumpy, like Scrooge or the Grinch. (Even the best of us sometimes fail to live up to the positive reputations that may have been built up around us; I can only imagine that this would be even more true of someone who has morphed into a legend.)
Notwithstanding the facts that: (1) his image has been turned to commercial purposes, and (2) he has come to be associated less with giving and more with greed this time of year, whether genuine or not, one must admit that there are admirable qualities associated even with the “legendary” Santa Claus. These qualities include being of a bounteous good nature, being quick to laugh, having a giving heart, and having a love for children. Who wouldn’t want to emulate those qualities?
Even as we remember “the real reason for the season” this time of year, let us not allow any “commercial caricatures” of him to obscure the good qualities of Saint Nicholas – qualities that, like those of our Savior, are well worth emulating!
Update, December 17, 2014: You may have noticed a misspelling of St. Nick’s name in earlier drafts of this post. Apologies. In my defense, I have a nephew by that name whose mother is full-blooded Italian, and they don’t believe the “h” is necessary. (I also speak passable Spanish, and they, too, do not believe the “h” is necessary.) Attempting to transliterate names is not the only time this “problem” rears its ugly head: not infrequently, I must stop myself from writing “cion” for English cognates that end in “tion,” and so on.