The Temptations of Armcharity

Do you believe in Santa?  The Santa Claus tradition has become rather controversial in Christian circles.  Is Santa a symbol of consumerism?  Is Santa a lie we tell your children?  Does Santa distract from Christ?  Our family is pro-Santa as our parents were before us.  Last year our eldest put two and two together and asked if Santa was real. I replied that while Mummy and Daddy filled the stockings and wrote the tags, yes, Santa Claus is very real.  He is St. Nicholas and is truly alive in heaven.

On earth, St. Nicholas was a bishop of the early church: a lover of the Holy Land and a participant at the Council of Nicea.  As with many early saints, the legends of his life have taken on greater fame than the historically provable facts.  We cannot say whether St. Nicholas in fact secretly crept into the house of a man with three daughters and anonymously left their dowries to save them from a life of prostitution.  Yet this legend teaches a truth about charity of which I am sure St. Nick would approve.  It is this lesson that we continue through the tradition of Santa Claus.  In the ultimate example of paying it forward, parents the world over now set aside the best gifts bringing joy to their children and give all the credit to the saint who expected no recognition for his own acts of charity.

This lesson of anonymous, humble giving is one that our time sorely needs.  With the rise of social media we struggle to do anything quietly.  Instead, we sit in our comfortable homes, connect to our wifi, sip coffee and feel cozily superior while we compete to see who loves more than whom.  From ice bucket challenges, to ash tags, to debates on refugees, to awareness months, to tinting your profile picture: Watch me live my faith!  Watch me love!  Click like or Baby Jesus will cry. Are all these things bad?  Of course not.  Awareness is good.  Inspiration is good.  But we are indulging in a kind of wallowing in easy charity, a pornography of self-righteousness, that makes us feel good as the primary motivation instead of helping others.

Besides the obvious temptation to vanity, this new brand of very public charity also makes easy prey to sloth.  All these things have in common the fact that they only require the ability to use a smart phone.  Without action it is all part of the sound and fury, signifying nothing that has become our culture.  Sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.  Stating your beliefs loudly on social media takes absolutely zero actual charity or sacrifice.  Defund Planned Parenthood or Stand With Planned Parenthood, Rainbow Flag or Vatican Flag, Pro Refugee or Pro Security these hollow gestures give the illusion of action so that everyone can get on with the important business of doing nothing.

Matthew 6: 3-4: But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

We must get back to this ideal of charity.  Advent is a time of preparation.  Let us take this opportunity to cleanse our motivations.  Take as a model that titan of the Christmas season Saint Nicholas.  Saint Nicholas, whose legend of humility and generosity to the less fortunate is forever associated with the season of giving.  This year let us give alms, in secret.  Let us quietly volunteer without sounding trumpets.  Let us bow our heads in prayer for the poor wounded world at least as often as we debate what to do about it.

Does this mean never debating on social media?  Not publicly professing your beliefs? No.  It does mean making sure you have the right priorities.  It means when someone asks for prayers you stop what you are doing and actually pray if you click like under their status.  A quick Memorare at the computer screen may do.  It means that when you do a challenge or recommend a charity you do some research and donate yourself if you can and should.  It means keeping some charity as a secret treasure between you, the person you helped, and God, a quiet experience of love of neighbor in the midst of all the noise.  It means, whatever you think about where the poor displaced people of the Middle East should spend the near future you personally invest something in making their existence there more bearable right now.

So that is my Advent challenge: to get off of the internet and do something, anything, without anybody watching. Be Santa, be St. Nicholas’ heir, to somebody who needs it.

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Caitlin Marchand is a home schooling mother of 6 and a graduate of Christendom College. She enjoys writing in her spare time and blogs at

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