“In things of the imagination, unlike things of reason, the form is the spirit.”
–G.K. Chesterton, On Santa Claus
Who do men say that Santa is? Some say Father Christmas; others say Kris Kringle. Santa Claus has become so unrecognizable by the world that many good Christians themselves refuse to recognize him, just as the Apostles abandoned the unrecognizable crucified Christ. But who do we say Santa is? He is Saint Nicholas, the bishop of Asia Minor and the patron saint of all children. My family recognizes him, and we will not abandon him.
Jolly Old Saint Nicholas is perhaps most recognizable in the Story of the Dowries:
There was a man, once rich, who had fallen on hard times. Now poor, he had three daughters of an age to be married. In those days a young woman's family had to have something of value, a dowry, to offer prospective bridegrooms. The larger the dowry, the better the chance a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery, or worse.
Word of the family's misfortune reached Nicholas, who had the wealth inherited from his parents. Coming in secret by night, he tossed a bag of gold into the house. It sailed in through an open window, landing in a stocking left before the fire to dry. What joy in the morning when the gold was discovered! The first daughter soon wed.
Not long after, another bag of gold again appeared mysteriously. The second daughter was married. The father, now very anxious to know who the secret benefactor was, kept watch during the night.
A third bag of gold landed inside the house and the watchful father leaped up and caught the fleeing donor. "Ah, Nicholas, it is you!" cried the father, "You have saved my daughters from certain disaster."
Nicholas, embarrassed, and not wishing to be known, begged the man to keep his identity secret. "You must thank God alone for providing these gifts in answer to your prayers for deliverance." http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/three-impoverished-maidens/
Many of Santa’s traditions, for instance, the tradition of hanging stockings over the fireplace, have their origins in St. Nicholas’ charity, but at present these traditions have been transferred to Christmas, unfortunately, to the detriment of Christ’s Mass and to the detriment of the children’s patron. Perhaps then, the stockings hung on Christmas Eve should, in a sense, fill the shoes set out on the eve of St. Nicholas Day, hopefully effecting the restoration of St. Nicholas Day and thereby the salvation of Christmas.
Our family celebrates Christmas with Santa Claus, recognizing that he is St. Nicholas. This aspect of Christmas, however, is really a continuation of St. Nicholas Day. For on the eve of St. Nick’s is when stockings are hung to dry over the fireplace (well, for now, our pretend fireplace). On St. Nicholas Day, the children (well, just "child" until next year) wake up to find bags of coins from Santa in their stockings, just as the three impoverished maidens found coins in theirs.
These coins, along with some candy and a holy card, are accompanied by an exhortation from Santa to use the coins to help the poor like he did, whether for the benefit of the lonely peer, the child in need, the homeless or destitute, or the sibling suffering hardship. The reward for such a good work is a stocking filled with gifts on Christmas day. On St. Nicholas Day, a wish list letter to St. Nick is to be written, then, telling him also of the intended good deed, which they have until Christmas to perform. On Christmas Eve, the letters to St. Nicholas will be left in their stockings for his review and on Christmas morning, if they performed their good deed, the children get presents in their stocking from St. Nick, made by angelic elves from the heavenly realm of the North Pole. Milk and cookies are left for St. Nicholas near the chimney and carrots for his reindeer are left in the yard and “A Visit from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore will be read.