Given the decision-making power of Santa Claus on the matter of gifts, my children make sure they leave Mr. Claus some seriously good cookies on Christmas Eve. However, most children don't know that there is much more to the real Saint Nick than toys and cookies. In addition to being generous, the jolly fellow could easily be considered the patron saint of purity.
Looking into the legend of Saint Nick, I learned that Saint Nicholas lived early in the fourth century in what is now Turkey. Orphaned as a young boy, he was left with substantial financial means by his parents. He used this inheritance to benefit others, especially children. Deeply religious, Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra in Turkey and played an important leadership role in the church. Called the Wonderworker, he was well known for his generosity to children, hence his association with the legend of Santa Claus. The story of a benevolent soul giving gifts to children is a part of many cultures with many names. Saint Nick as another name for Santa Claus persists to this day.
I also discovered that Saint Nicholas is a patron saint of virgins. In the Catholic tradition, a patron saint is one who prays to God on behalf of a petitioner. So, if one wants to remain chaste, one may pray to Saint Nicholas who will then lift up the petitioner in spiritual prayer to God. As an aside, his patronage may explain at least one of the criteria for being in either the naughty or nice category when Saint Nick checks and rechecks his list. But I digress. There is more to this story.
Legend has it that Saint Nicholas became aware of a desperately poor parishioner having three daughters with no dowry to recommend them for marriage. The father had planned to sell them into prostitution to provide some means of support. By night, Saint Nicholas secretly brought bags of gold on three separate occasions to the man's home. These generous visitations allowed the three daughters to have sufficient means to avoid this fate and later strike a marriage covenant. On the third visit to deliver the gift, Nicholas was caught in the act of generosity by the grateful father.
Many make the Santa Claus-like association of this story to Saint Nicholas the gift giver. I see an additional angle. For reasons that often involve money, women today have few benefactors, few Saint Nicks. Bob Dylan sang truly two decades ago that today's culture seems to promote "old men turning young daughters into whores." A look at any magazine rack will tell you that there is a market for flesh and the demographic is predominantly male. Research company Visiongain estimated that the pornography market was a 70 billion industry in 2006. That is a lot of gold being used to degrade women rather than enhance their virtue.
Blending traditional gender roles has been little help here. Women today are not, nor should they be, as helpless as those three girls aided by Saint Nicholas. However, girls gone wild with sexual freedom most often leads to exploitation by men. I doubt we would see as much skin if there were no gawking male purchasers, eager to buy and sell innocence as commerce.
Harmful to both men and women, graphic sexuality, even the somewhat scaled down prime time variety, contributes to the overall commoditization of sex. Viewed through the eyes of a pornographer, sex is commerce and sexual purity is restraint of trade.
We need Saint Nicholas today. We need the gifts of chastity and modesty. We need more respecters of purity and fewer of those who would sell young people into the brothel of commercialism.
We need you today Saint Nicholas, the Wonderworker. Our sons and daughters need the good gifts of those who truly value their health and purity.
Warren Throckmorton, is an associate professor of psychology and fellow for psychology and public policy with The Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.