How Christiany do you like to take your Santas? Does Santa take orders from the Vatican? Or is his connection purely indiana jones-esque.
Subjectively, my answer is this: just like the Christmas holiday itself, Santa Claus is versatile enough to be exactly as much or as little Christian as each individual wants or needs it to be. If your ability to reflect on a time of peace, joy, and new beginnings is predicated on the birth of a Messianic savior, good news! There is a Christian saint in bishop robes here to teach your children a catechism. If you prefer to revel in family, friends, generosity, and hope in a secular kind of way, good news! There’s a fat elf who wants to share a cookie with you. Santa is all things to all people, including nothing at all to the people who don’t want him, and a villain to those who need him to be a villain.
Objectively, my answer is this: just like the Christmas holiday itself, Santa Claus is a little bit Christian, and a little bit rock and roll.
Obviously, St Nicholas is a real-ass for real Christian saint, incredibly popular throughout the world as the patron of children, sailors, pawnbrokers, pirates and prostitutes. He is literally the most revered non-biblical saint. That’s legit.
But then you have to consider how much St Nicholas is in Santa Claus: the answer is, very little. St Nicholas was a stern saint, doling out birch rod whippings to naughty children, uncovering murderers, chaining demons, and going hand-to-hand with for real Greco-Roman deities. His tolerance for nonsense was low. Santa Claus is a jolly elfin creature, dressed in furs and flying on reindeer, consorting with elves, and venerating coniferous plants. I’ve seen a Bible once or twice; I’ve been to the Vatican; I don’t remember anything about the Holy Headwear of the Beatified Frosty or the Church of Kris Kringle Quo Vadis. Folklorically, Santa Claus has more in common with the devil than he does with St Nicholas.
And frankly, there are plenty of Christians who don’t care for Santa Claus at all. To them, he is a symbol of the secularism and consumerism that they feel makes up the opposing front in the War on Christmas.
Guess what! It’s nothing new! The view that Christmas, and Father Christmas with it, was so pagan and, worse, papist that it was an affront to decency led Christmas to be literally outlawed from 1647 until 1660. CHRISTMAS WAS A CRIME.
Father Christmas was literally arrested and put on trial in this time period:
Martin Luther and other leaders of the Protestant Reformation created the figure of Christkindl with the express purpose of destroying St Nicholas.
How faithful would you be to a church that imprisoned you, that rejects you, that hates you, that persecuted and prosecuted you, that created a supernatural being to destroy you?
The answer is: some.
You can’t have Christmas without Christ, but you also can’t have Christmas without Odin. They just didn’t put his name in the title. And the same goes for Santa Claus.
Santa Claus, taking on the characteristics of St Nicholas and Father Christmas, protects and brings joy to children, helps those in need, admonishes the guilty, but believes unflaggingly in forgiveness. These are Christian virtues. But they’re also the virtues of anyone with a heart.