Geoffrey Johnstone is the pastor of the Seymour Baptist Church.
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Santa Claus has been getting bad press lately.
When I was four, my mother explained how the system worked.
Santa owns a factory at the North Pole where small people called elves manufacture toys for well-behaved children.
Every Christmas, he loads a sack into the back of his sleigh and delivers gifts with the help of six flying reindeer.
The next day, I awoke to a brand new scooter.
The glass of milk and teddy bear biscuits I left out were gone.
This was all the proof I needed!
The illusion lasted for two more years and ended rather badly.
It happened during the last week of school in 1963.
The Year 2 students were lined up to board a bus that would take us to the local pool.
“Santa is bringing me a cricket bat for Christmas,” I said confidently.
The little boy at the front of the line turned with a scowl.
“There’s no such thing as Santa Claus,” he declared.
“It’s just your mum and dad.”
Many years later, I discovered that an advertising agent for Coca-Cola created the Santa Claus we love today.
In 1930, illustrator Haddon Sundblom was commissioned to create a series of images using the company’s colours of red and white.
Overnight, the patron saint of children morphed into a fat, jolly man who motivated us to spend money at Christmas.
Sundblom would later work on Quaker Oats, Maxwell House coffee and Camel cigarettes.
However, nothing matched the success he enjoyed with Santa.
This year alone, Australians will spend $30 billion on Christmas presents.
Every year, I have the same argument with church members.
“Let’s get back to the real message of Christmas,” they argue.
Santa Claus represents crass consumerism, so we will dress our children in beach towels and bed sheets to remember Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey.
The story ends when an angel proclaims, “Peace on earth and goodwill to all men”, but spare a thought for the real St Nicholas, who lived in the dying days of the Roman Empire.
History recalls that a young man renounced a family inheritance to serve the poor in Myra, an important city on the south coast of Türkiye.
He quickly became known for his generosity.
Impoverished families would wake to find toys on their doorstep so that children could experience a glimmer of joy in difficult times.
My favourite story centres on a young man who falls in love with a young lady whom he desperately wants to marry.
Unfortunately, he was poor and could not pay the dowry.
Nicholas soon discovered that three young ladies were in the home and that without husbands, they would soon be out on the street.
One night, he climbed onto the house’s roof and dropped a bag of gold down the chimney.
In the morning, their father asked what this could mean.
“It must have fallen from heaven,” the Bishop explained.
“God Himself has paid the dowry for your eldest daughter.”
Nicholas repeated the favour twice, and soon, each daughter was spared the horror of living on the streets.
You have to love a man like that.
This year, do yourself a favour.
Tell your family about the real man the next time Santa turns up — and give your credit card a holiday.