Liberty Film Professor Creates a Documentary Sharing the Story of the Real Man of Faith Behind the Tradition of Santa Claus

The Christmas season is filled with timeless traditions, joyful carols and time spent with loved ones. 

Arguably the most universally shared Christmas custom is Santa Claus. Known by many names – Father Christmas, Kris Kringle or Pere Noel, the beloved tale of a man delivering presents to good boys and girls all around the world on Christmas Eve, remains the same. 

Yet, many people do not realize that the real origin of the legend of Santa Claus comes from Saint Nicholas of Myra.

“There have been plenty of stories about how we got Santa Claus, but no one had really told the story of who the real man was and what we know about this man as a person of faith,” Liberty Professor Stuart Bennett said.  

Bennett set out to uncover the history of Saint Nicholas and reveal the mystery of this legend. “Saint Nicholas: The Real Story,” released in 2015, seeks out truth in a documentary film. Hosted by Dr. Mark Wilson, a researcher on the early church and founder of the Asia Minor Research Center, the film leads audiences through the beautiful country of Turkey showcasing excavation sites and informative testimonies from leading experts on the topic. 

“For me and my wife as Christians, we really wrestled with what to tell our children about Santa Claus,” Bennett said. “My parents would tell us about Santa in England miraculously coming down our chimney every year. When I had the chance to make the film, my focus was answering that question: ‘What could we be telling our kids.’”

The opportunity for Bennett arose while filming a different documentary in Turkey about Ephesus and its importance to the New Testament. 

“After we finished filming, my friend Dr. Mark Wilson recommended we visit Myra with our extra couple of days, which is where Saint Nicholas was bishop,” Bennett said. 

The days spent in Myra fascinated Bennett, and the idea of Nicholas sparked an . interest.

“It was amazing to me how much was in just one area,” Bennett said. “I felt inspired to start researching.” 

Bennett spent about a year educating himself and searching for any films and research that had been done about Nicholas’ life, finding few resources on the subject.

The further Bennett researched, the more he found about  the depth of Saint Nicholas’ story.

“My favorite discovery was the fact that Nicholas’ life transitioned from the oppression of the Roman empire, to Constantine becoming a Christian and Christianity being legalized,” Bennett said. “His life spanned that, which is such a transformational period, from being persecuted to being somebody who was given so much power and ability to encourage the church.” 

While Saint Nicolas of Myra never traveled down chimneys to deliver gifts, he nonetheless has an inspiring story.

Bennett also spoke of the Council of Nicaea, one of the earliest assemblies of the church in 325 AD. 

“Looking at the Council of Nicaea and seeing that Nicholas definitely attended was really special,” Bennett said. “The fact that this is where we get the first bases of the faith and he is one of the signatures is incredible.”

With this film, parents now have the opportunity to tell their kids that Saint Nicholas was a guy who really existed, was persecuted for his faith and can now be celebrated as someone who was influential in religious history.

“It really changes everything from this mythical figure in a red suit that comes down the chimney, to a really powerful story,” Bennett said. “It’s the kind of story I love to tell. We think we know about a topic, and we only know a little bit of truth, but when you dig deeper, you start to find real nuggets of gold.”

“It was truly a thrill for me to put the pieces of the story together,” Bennett said.

Saint Nicholas: The Real Story has been shown on TV in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ukraine and Russia. 

“The film was dubbed into the Russian language three years ago, and it was broadcast at Christmas in 2018 and 2019,” Bennett said. “The potential audience for the broadcasts in 2019 was more than 130 million people.”

Saint Nicholas: The Real Story is available for viewing on Amazon Prime. 

Kathryn Alley is a Feature Reporter.

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