NOTE TO THE READER: This is the text of the speech I offered last night at my Toastmasters Christmas party. I hope you enjoy it!
“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” Each of us is familiar with this famous line penned by NY Sun editor Francis Church as he replied to a query from little Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897. Madam Toastmaster, fellow Toastmasters, honored Guests, I stand before you this evening to share with you the truth that Santa Claus is, indeed, real.
Who is this Santa Claus? In American culture he is portrayed as that jolly old elf with the rotund torso donned in his famous red suit trimmed in white fur. His hair and his beard are snowy white and he laughs with a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” He lives in the perpetual winter of the North Pole and has a troupe of elves building children’s toys year round for Santa’s Christmas deliveries. He magically appears simultaneously in innumerable shopping malls and town squares all across the land as he welcomes children onto his lap to hear their Christmas wishes. He tours the world in a single night in a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer as he distributes toys to good little boys and girls. That is how culture portrays him; but is that who he is, really?
According to History.com, the notion of Santa Claus has its origins way back in a 3rd century Turkish Monk named St Nicholas. St Nicholas was known for his piety, his kindness, and his charity. Let’s briefly examine these three traits of Saint Nicholas.
Piety, according to Websters dictionary, is the quality of being religious or reverent. Nikolas was a monk, and monks typically live lives of religious ritual and repetition as they seek to connect with and relate to God. Reverence is a deep respect for something. It’s more than just going through the motions of some ceremony or ritual; it that complete, internalized honor, respect, and love for the One behind the ceremony or ritual. His reverence for God is likely the catalyst behind the other two traits for which he was known.
Websters Dictionary defines kindness as the quality of being friendly, generous and considerate. History tells us that Saint Nicholas traveled the countryside helping the poor and the sick. In this, he reminds me of Mother Theresa, a nun who lived a life of self-deprivation as she dedicated herself to helping the poor and needy. Both Saint Nicholas and Mother Theresa are excellent examples of individuals who dedicated their lives to showing true kindness to others.
Charity, according to Websters dictionary, is benevolent goodwill towards or love for humanity. One of the best-known stories about Saint Nicholas involves his encounter with a very poor family. The family could not afford to put up a proper dowry for its three daughters so they could be married. So, instead, the girls were going to be sold into prostitution. Saint Nicholas gathered the resources necessary to put up a dowry for each of the girls so they could be married instead of being sold into prostitution.
I would be willing to bet that each of us in this room has, at some point in life, been the recipient of unsolicited kindness or charity. When I was in college, I was driving home to Katy from Austin late one night. I dozed off as I drove down a dark farm to market road just outside of Bellville, Texas. I woke up as my car careened off the road and into the ditch. Fortunately, I was not injured. As I stood by the roadside at about 1:00 in the morning, I wondered what I would do next. (Remember, this is 1983, long before we all carried cell phones.) It didn’t take long for a car to come along and stop. A man and his wife took me to their farmhouse, which was close by. The man retrieved a tractor and the three of us drove back to the site of my accident where he proceeded to pull my car out of the ditch. The man and his wife offered to let me spend the rest of the night as a guest at their home, but I told them I was within 20 minutes of my own place. I offered him a $20 bill, all the money I had on me. He would accept no payment for his effort; he told me that he hoped I would take the opportunity to help somebody else someday. You know what? On that night, at that time, that man and his wife were Saint Nicholas to me.
Several years later I was standing in line at a Houston BBQ restaurant, waiting to order my lunch. As I approached the register, a man came stumbling towards me. At first I assumed he was drunk, but once I looked directly at him I knew something was wrong. His eyes were bulging out from his face and he held his hands to his throat in the universal sign for choking. He was obviously in distress. He was rather large, but I moved behind him, wrapped my arms around his torso, and delivered the hardest Heimlich maneuver I could muster. The piece of brisket that had lodged in his throat flew several feet through the air, over the counter, and landed at the feet of a very shocked cashier. As he gasped for breath, he managed a soft “thank you” as he headed to the men’s room. You know what? On that day, at that time, I was Saint Nicholas to that man.
Saint Nicholas, the original inspiration for our modern day Santa Claus, lived a life of kindness and charity towards others in honor of his faith in God and his love for humanity. So you see, my friends, Santa is real. He exists as the spirit of Saint Nicholas lives on through each act of kindness and charity that we receive and through each act of kindness and charity that we pay forward. As we celebrate this holiday season, let us seek to view every person as Saint Nicholas viewed them – worthy of our respect, worthy of our time, worthy of our kindness, and worthy of our charity. Merry Christmas!
One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.’ The second is this, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~ Mark 12:28-31