Those pesky Russians are at it again.
This time they have stolen Santa Claus. For more than 1000 years the honest-to-goodness remains of the very real St. Nicholas have been lovingly housed in Italy, of all places. Nicholas was not Italian, not by a long shot. Truth be told, he was Turkish but his old bones were stolen from Turkey a millennium ago by Italian merchants.
No, this is not the story of the first department store Santa. The merchants didn’t want Nicholas in order to merchandise him. First of all, he was dead. Hardly a merry feature for the in-store kiddos. Besides, Nicholas wasn’t the Santa then we know now.
Of course, he was giving and kind and legendary for his love of children. But those were simpler, more pure times.
Nicholas was famous because he performed miracles and great acts of benevolence. His fame spread because these acts and miracles touched the lives of many.
But Santa then was much more of a religious figure, rather than the secular hero he is today. Nicholas was, after all, a Bishop in the early Catholic Church. That’s where the modern Santa gets his love of red fashion — he’s patterned after the priestly robes of the 4th century bishop that Nicholas was.
Well now the Russians have his old bones at long last.
And they have wanted them for a long time.
You see, contrary to popular opinion, Russia has a long history of faith. The Orthodox Church that numbers so much of Russia’s Christians have revered Nicholas as a Saint long before the Western world corrupted him with corporate sponsorships.
And they want to pay their respects still.
And the Russians are not really stealing Santa. They are just kind of borrowing him for a while through some kind of special arrangement between the Pope and the head of the Orthodox Church.
The ark carrying his remains was flown from Italy to Moscow for a limited engagement only. Later this year he returns to Italy.
But not before thousands of Orthodox Christians will line up to pay their respect.
The western world would be wise to watch how respectful these thousands of Russians and Italians approach St. Nicholas. A fresh, more reverential approach to Santa wouldn’t be a bad idea for the entire world to consider.
K. Klark Klaus is a former professor of theology and, as an academic, abhors the titles of "writer" and "reporter". As a New Yorker he was prominent on his essays on religion for many decades before retiring with his wife to Vermont, where he raises reindeer and writes, er, opines for Christmas Weekly.
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