Saturday, December 18, 2004

Given his decisionmaking power on gifts, my girls made sure Santa Claus got some seriously good cookies most Christmas Eves. Like most children, mine did not know there is much more to the real Saint Nick than toys and cookies. The jolly fellow could easily be the patron saint of purity.

Recently looking into the legend, I learned Saint Nicholas lived early in the fourth century in what is now Turkey. He was orphaned as a young boy but left with substantial means by his parents. He used this inheritance to benefit others, especially children. He became the Bishop of Myra and was an important leader in the church. Called the Wonderworker, he was well known for 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 read in my study that Saint Nicholas is a patron saint of virgins. Consulting with a Catholic friend, I learned a patron saint prays to God on behalf of a petitioner. So, in the Catholic tradition, if one wishes 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 Saint Nicholas became aware of a desperately poor parishioner who had three daughters with no dowry to recommend them for marriage. The father planned to sell them into prostitution to provide a 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 enough to avoid whoredom and later strike a marriage covenant. On the third visit, Nicholas was caught by the man.

Many make the Santa Claus-like association of this story to Saint Nicholas the gift-giver. I see another angle. For reasons often involving money, women today have few benefactors, few Saint Nicks. Bob Dylan sang it 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 there is a market for flesh and the demographic is predominantly male, ages 12 to 90. Research company Visiongain projects the pornography market to be a $70 billion industry by 2006. That is a lot of gold used to take advantage of women rather than promote their virtue.

Liberation from traditional female roles has been little help here. Women today are not, and should not be, as helpless as those three girls aided by Saint Nicholas. However, girls gone wild with sexual freedom most often lead 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.

Harmful to both men and women, graphic sexuality, even the somewhat scaled-down prime-time variety, contributes to the overall commodification of sex. Viewed by a pornographer, sex is commerce and sexual purity a restraint of trade.

We need Saint Nicholas today. We need the gifts of chastity and modesty. We need more respecters of purity and fewer who would sell young people into commercialism’s brothel.

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.


Associate professor of psychology and director of college counseling services

Grove City College, Grove City, Pa. (

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