If the bones of Santa Claus were found, would it change your celebration of Christmas? We have this fairy tale notion of Father Christmas as a white bearded grandfather figure, who remains ever the same. Age-to-age rolls by, but Santa doesn’t age: eternally old St. Nick.
Last year archeologists, just in time for Christmas, announced a new discovery: a previously unknown tomb below the St. Nicholas Basilica in the Demre district of Antalya, Turkey. That is the location of the ancient city of Myra where St. Nicholas was bishop early in the fourth century AD. Researchers have yet to confirm the find, but they believe the tomb may actually contain St. Nicholas’ remains (the figure behind the mythical traditions of Santa Claus).
Several entities have a vested interest in investigating this. The country of Turkey is eager to find out, as this could be a boom for tourism, not only of the Christmas kind, but St. Nicholas is one of the most popular saints of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions—the pilgrimage tourism alone would be well worth the archeological costs to determine this. The country of Italy is also watching closely because until now they have claimed to be the curators of St. Nicholas’ remains, keeping them safe in a crypt in Basilica di San Nicola on the southeast coast of Italy. The remains are believed to have been taken there by sailors in the 11th century to protect the relics from Islamic invaders. The Roman Catholic Church too would like to see this settled, for the relics of saints are highly venerated and knowing which are the true remains is of paramount importance.
There is no doubt St. Nicholas was a real person. The four most undisputed facts about him are that he was a faithful Christian Pastor and bishop of the late third and early fourth century, that he at one point was imprisoned for his faith in Jesus under the Roman emperor Diocletian, that he successfully defended the deity of Christ from the Arian heresy at least in his own city, if not also at the council of Nicaea where the Nicene Creed got its start, and finally that he died.
St. Nicholas’ interest was never in claiming his own eternal existence, but rather that of his Savior, Jesus. Nicholas lived through the challenge of Empire-wide persecution of anyone who claimed to believe in the divinity of Jesus, and he lived through the challenge of the Arian heresy which said that Jesus was a created being made by God the Father so that “there was a time when he was not.” His life’s dedication was to proclaim the birth of Jesus as witnessed in the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us!” (John 1:1-3 & 14)
Hopefully, this article will change the way you celebrate Christmas. Not because you have lost your faith in Father Christmas, but because you find your faith renewed by witness of the true St. Nick. He is most certainly alive, only not at the North Pole, unless that’s where Jesus is, for the real St. Nicolas is with Jesus. And his message is changeless, age-to-age it remains the same, because he contended for God’s Word, and that’s a word that endures forever. Merry Christmas, from St. Nicholas to you!