December 6 is the Feast of St. Nicholas. Often forgotten today, this feast marks the saint who is the origin of the legend of Santa Claus. On this day many places in Europe still keep the tradition of offering candy to one another. The old tradition, sees the children leaving their shoes out for St. Nick to fill.
The legend of this man is quite interesting. He was said to have taken the considerable wealth that he was left and used it to assist the poor and the needy, assuming a life of poverty and service. There are many legends of his miracles and his charity. One story about is generosity goes something like this;
St. Nicholas, which was said to visit a poor family at night, carrying a bag of gold. The story goes that the father could not provide for his daughters, which meant they could not marry. In that day a dowry was required for young women to be married. Nicholas rescued them from slavery or prostitution by dropping gold coins through a window. The gifts fell into their stockings, which had been hung up to dry.
Each and every story of Nicholas is one of his selflessness. He is the Patron saint of orphans, sailors, and those in distress. He was said to have , through prayer, raised from the dead three people who had been butchered and hidden in brine. It is also said that St. Nicholas cared deeply about his beliefs to the point of having punched a heretic when theological debate failed. As is the case with all saints it is hard to decipher myth or legend from the character of the saint himself. But as is also the case with most saints, what is important is not the facts of their lives but the reality of their faith and the conviction they had to make a difference. One collect for this feast day reads;
in your great love
you gave your servant NICHOLAS
a perpetual name for deeds of kindness on land and sea.
Grant that your Church may never cease to work
for the happiness of children,
the safety of sailors,
the relief of the poor
and the help of those who are tossed
by tempests of doubt or grief;
through JESUS CHRIST our LORD,
who lives and reigns with you and the HOLY SPIRIT,
one GOD, now and for ever.
It is a beautiful prayer. I love the imagery that is conjured up in there especially the nautical images. At this time of year when the image of St. Nicholas is lost to the patron saint of the Cathedral-of-all-Malls, it is perhaps good for us as a people of faith to remember the saints who not only shaped our faith, but who also influenced our culture. Nowadays the jovial and jolly patron saint of the Cathedral-of-all-Malls is visiting everything from Thanksgiving day parades, to staff parties, to schools and golf clubs, beginning in November and running straight through till Christmas eve. Instead of sending messages of reaching out to the lost, the forgotten and the lonely the message is of greed and excess.
On this day dedicated to the one whose name is synonymous with “…deeds of kindness on land and sea” we take pause early on our Advent journey to reflect on what this upcoming season is really all about. In so doing perhaps we can be called back to the Holy Child and the gift of light in the midst of all darkness. The Holy Child who inspired people like Nicholas to make children happy, to feed the hungry, to help the poor, to rescue the one desperately lost at sea. So perhaps we can seek to take a page out of Good Saint Nicholas’ book.
First let’s have some fun and pass around some candy, some chocolate, a gold chocolate coin if you can find some, but any candy will do. (If you want to get real technical ….put some in a loved ones shoe.) Second, maybe for a day, this great feast day, we can turn our attention away from the patron saint of the Cathedral-of-all-Malls and turn it toward working to be a people of God, a church, who “never ceases to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor and the help of those who are tossed by tempests of doubt or grief.” This task requires that we give in the way it which it was originally intended. Let us all look for a person or a people in need and respond accordingly.
I’m not trying to beat up Santa here. I am sure that we will all take part in the “liturgies” offered at the Cathedral-of-all-Malls. I am sure that we will all over extend ourselves in some way shape or form in hopes of meeting everyone’s expectations. Today is a good chance to stop early in advent and ask God to guide our hearts to find ways in the middle of this wild time to find someone who is tossed about, who is drifting, who is broken, who is alone, who is hurting or who is forgotten and seek to find a small way to make a difference. We can honour the real origin of gift giving by seeking to give dignity to fellow child of God. Having sought dignity for the other, I think that we ironically give ourselves a little more dignity in the middle of the madness that this season can be.
Have a happy St. Nicholas Day. I have to go check some shoes or socks!