Saint Nicholas, A Man Who Loved God and Loved OthersThursday, December 1, 2016
*don't do it, Gia!*
*bites lip, rolls eyes...and mumbled, "Fine..."*
Back to what I was saying:
What I will share with you first was my son’s history lesson today. My children are home schooled, but it’s a public school/charter school that they participate in remotely from home. All the curriculum is what they teach in public school—supposedly. I find this a little hard to believe, because their history lessons are rich with Christian and Muslim history.
Onto Teddy’s lesson today.
Later in life, Nicholas, who had been raised and educated by his uncle (a bishop) answered the call of Emperor Constantine to attend a The First Council of Nicaea where the men would debate about the Holy Father and his relationship to the Holy Son. It was at this meeting that legend tells us that Saint Nicholas became so enraged with the Egyptian bishop, that he stood, crossed the room calmly, and slapped the man across the face. He was later arrested, stripped of his bishop robes, then (because of an encounter in his prison cell with Jesus and Mother Mary) released and reinstated as a bishop (more on this another time).
Perhaps the song about Santa Claus being able to see us when we are sleeping, comes from the stories of Saint Nicholas having an uncanny way of knowing who in his village were in desperate need. One story is of a man with four daughters. The man was too poor to pay a dowry for his daughters to marry and the eldest one was distraught. Saint Nicholas overheard her grief as she cried in her bedroom and it burdened his heart. Nicholas rushed away from the house, went into his house and collected all the gold coins he could find, stuffed them in a bag, and went back to the man’s home. Since he wanted to give this gold in secret, he swung the bag and tossed it high onto the man’s roof where it landed atop the chimney and fell down inside. Sound familiar?
That night, Saint Nicholas awake from his sleep with fear and worry over the remaining daughters. He had given enough money for the eldest daughter to marry, but certainly the other girls would want to marry too. So he climbed out of bed, gathered more gold coins and tossed a bag upon the man’s roof. He did this the next two nights until all the the daughters had enough money to marry.
The following spring, Saint Nicholas sat quietly and watched the daughters dance with their new husbands at the marriage feast. He was so pleased to see the joy in the girls parents' eyes. They would be okay now, they were taken care of, and no one knew it had been him that delivered the bags of coins.
Today, Saint Nicholas is celebrated all around the world as the secret gift giver and the saint for children. He has his own day dedicated to his memory on December 6th, early in the Advent calendar. People leave carrots at night for his donkey that he travels on as he comes along bearing gifts. They leave out stocking or boots for him to fill with chocolate, oranges, and gold. Children are taught that the gifts are to be shared and not hoarded away for themselves. In turn, they give to those around them as well.
By the sixth century, the story of Saint Nicholas had been heard far and wide and he was officially known as a saint. Emperor Justinian built a church to commemorate him, encouraging citizens to celebrate Saint Nicholas. In the 10th century, an anonymous Greek author wrote, "The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, in the country and the town, in the villages, in isles, in the furthest parts of the earth, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. All Christians, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, reverence the memory and call upon his protection."
During World War II, Santa Claus became a household name. Everyone was desperate for joy, as we are now, and the mysticism and gift giving became popular once again. As bombs fell in Europe, American GIs would dress up like Santa and hand out little toys and candy to the local children who were in desperate need of cheer and hope. Our brave fighting men restored something good in a land that was devastated with loss.
So here we are. We are still a world reeling from war and loss and pain. Is it lying to continue centuries old tradition that stemmed from a good, kind, loving man who tended to his neighbors needs? It is lying to encourage mystery and imagination…?
I have no good answer, but instead will take the lead of WWII service men who became Santa Claus and took a bag of gifts and candy and treats all across Europe. If it was good enough for those brave men, it’s good enough for me and my children.
So, here’s to Santa Claus—jolly ole’ Saint Nick (-holas).