Separating Santa Fact from Fiction

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," December 23, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

RICH LOWRY, GUEST CO-HOST: 'Tis the season for cheer, giving and Santa. Wait a minute, or is it?

A German priest is launching an international campaign to do away with the jolly man in the big, red coat, saying he commercializes Christmas. He claims we are misrepresenting the real St. Nicholas, but are we? Or is Santa, for many people, a symbol of the real Christmas meaning, which celebrates God, giving, and miracles?

According to one poll, religion lies deep within Americans, especially around holiday time. A new Harris poll shows 80 percent of adults believe in God and that 75 percent believe in miracles.

The survey also shows 73 percent believe in heaven, 71 percent believe in angels, and 59 percent believe in the devil.

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Joining us to sort through the numbers is the author of "Soul Provider," a contributor to ABC News, and a Catholic priest with the Passionist Order, Father Edward Beck.

Father, thanks so much for being with us.


LOWRY: We tried to book Santa for this segment, but he's busy this time of year and also, Alan, apparently considering a New York Senate run.

COLMES: Santa Kennedy, yes.

LOWRY: Yes. So Father, let's talk about Santa Claus a little bit. Because I love all these Christmas traditions. I'm a sucker for all of it. Even the Budweiser commercials stir my heart a little bit this time of year. But, you know, a lot of Christians do worry, you know, is this holiday over commercialized and sending the wrong signal?

BECK: Well, it may be over commercialized, but I think you can use the commercialism towards your own ends. Like Santa Claus, I mean, that's a religious saint, St. Nicholas. So don't dismiss Santa Claus. Go back to the religious origins of Santa Claus: a gift giver, taking care of children, a great bishop of the church. Make the connection.

LOWRY: So who — who was St. Nicholas? Where — what area did he operate in?

BECK: Turkey, actually, a bishop of Turkey, and was known to be good to children, good to the poor. You know, and so that bishop's hat becomes the floppy Santa Claus hat.

You know, but Sinterklaas is still the Dutch name for Santa Claus. December 6 is celebrated in northern Europe as a religious feast day. So I don't think you throw the baby out with the bath water.

I want to give you an example. I was in a parish church, and we were going to have the kids' mass. And there was a big controversy, because they wanted to bring Santa Claus in for the kids' mass. Some parents were opposed to it. Some were for it.

And I said, "Of course, we're going to have Santa Claus come into the mass, but Santa Claus is going to kneel at the manger in front of the baby Jesus, just like the kings, just like the shepherds."

So can you imagine the kids, who Santa Claus is their religious icon...

LOWRY: An authority figure.

BECK: Yes. And even kneeling in front of Jesus, Santa Claus. This Jesus must be really special. So you use the cultural symbols for your own ends.

LOWRY: Yes, very nice. Now, father, when you look at the survey data, any survey like this always shows just how deeply faithful we are as a country and really are an outlier, when you compare us to the rest of the western developed countries, where we have held to our faith much more than they have. Why is that?

BECK: I'm not sure why, but I think, again, you can build on that. There's this spirituality that seems endemic to us as a people. So again, use — even if they're not according to what you believe spiritually.

I'm not of the belief that you just exclude people. I think you have to work with what you have and bring them into the fold. So don't — because you don't believe what something else — someone else believes just simply dismiss it. I think use it for your own ends.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: Father, it's nice to meet you, by the way. Thanks for being here.

BECK: Sure.

COLMES: Santa Claus really embodies the very spirit of what Jesus stood for. Isn't that right? I mean, so this guy who wants to do away with him is crazy.

BECK: Well, I think so. Look at the gift gifting part. You can use this as a teaching moment for children. God gave the biggest gift, his only son.


BECK: The wise men come to the stable, give three gifts. What were those three gifts? What did they mean? So we give gifts as representing that.

COLMES: Is Santa and St. Nick, are they, indeed, the same coronation, basically?

BECK: They are, actually, though Santa Claus has kind of morphed into a more commercial figure. But yes, the origins are in St. Nicholas.

COLMES: Are you surprised by this poll? Look, 80 percent believe in God. We're a very religious country. Not necessarily organized religion, by the way.

BECK: Right.

COLMES: I wonder, if they broke it down, how many would actually say they're church or synagogue-goers.

BECK: Right.

COLMES: But 80 percent believe in God. And it's interesting that, on the other line, 24 percent in — believe in reincarnation; 62 percent believe in hell; and 73 percent in heaven. A lot more people believe in heaven.

LOWRY: Me, too.

COLMES: But are you surprised by any of these numbers?

BECK: I'm not. I find us to be a very religious people. And working with people in ministry all the time, I'm amazed that I find people much more faithful than I am. They put me to shame. So no, I'm not surprised by those numbers at all.

COLMES: Fifty-nine percent believe in the devil. But among our audience, most of them think that's me. So I'm — I'm doing good.

And let's see. Seventy percent believe in the resurrection, and 71 percent Jesus — believe Jesus is the son of God. So that's got to give you some comfort, top know that what you're doing, obviously, is having an effect on people. Right? Your message is...

LOWRY: You can take credit, Father.

BECK: I can't take credit. I just kind of point to the message. Point to the message. I think that's what my job is. And certainly, a lot of people want to listen to that message. And that gives me some faith.

COLMES: Father, thanks very much for being here. Merry Christmas to you.

BECK: Thank you.

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