Bob Mathewson as Santa Claus gets his picture taken with a preschooler at St. Ambrose of Woodbury’s Early Childhood Education Center in Minnesota Dec. 4, 2019. In more than two decades of portraying the jolly gift giver, Mathewson, 59, appears to be a perfect replica, complete with a handmade suit, white hair and a real beard, plus a robust laugh made extra jolly from hundreds of gigs, skill building at Santa schools and a heart for bringing joy and the true meaning of Christmas to children. (Dave Hrbacek/CNS, via Catholic Spirit)

This unsigned editorial first appeared online Dec. 12 on the website of the RHODE ISLAND CATHOLIC, newspaper of the Diocese of Providence, Rhode Island.

Santa Claus is real. More precisely commemorated as St. Nicholas (in Dutch, “Sinterklass,” later anglicized to “Santa”), the Church celebrates this fourth-century bishop every Dec. 6 for his holiness of life and zeal for souls.

Chiefly known for his charity toward children, St. Nicholas would secretly buy them food and other gifts so they did not have to beg on the street. One narrator recounts that St. Nicholas would enter their homes to surprise the children with gifts — hence the tradition celebrated virtually everywhere to this day.

But St. Nicholas was not simply a jolly man dressed in red garments. He also was a sturdy defender of the faith. Passionate for truth, Nicholas literally took matters “into his own hands” after the heretic Arius doubted the divinity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea in 325. A slap across the heretic’s face earned Nicholas a spot in the local jail. This brief incarceration taught Nicholas to temper his irate reactions, but never at the expense of truth.

This Advent and Christmas, parents would do well to reclaim the Church’s true tradition about Santa Claus with all its wonder, while not neglecting the important role this saint plays in heavenly intercession.

St. Nicholas, patron of children, intercedes especially for children who go without the basic necessities we all take for granted. Likewise, he intercedes for the Church daily in the defense of the Christian faith. He’s an important friend and a sturdy aid in spiritual battle. We should pray to him often. After all, he’s real.

The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual publication and do not necessarily represent the views of Catholic News Service or of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.