The Gift of St. Nicholas
Growing up my family didn’t have any traditions around Santa Claus; so, I never “believed” in him. All I remember of Santa Claus is that a friend told me in high school that I had been the one many years prior
to disabuse her of the notion that Santa was real. Being a truth teller is not always a good nor popular thing!
Fast forward not so many years later and my sister had her children long before I had mine. She seemed to make up for our parents’ lack of imagination in regards to Mr. Claus. In my memory, she went over the top the other way so that there was no room left in Christmas for Christ. (I’m going to visit her and my one niece in Florida next week; I’ll be sure to check out my claims).
So, when Erik and I had our children, I was in search of something in-between. Fortunately, I stumbled upon a book To Dance with God by Gertrud Mueller Nelson. In it she writes about celebrating the liturgical seasons of the year starting with Advent in which falls December 6th the Feast Day of St. Nicholas. I love what she writes about the enduring powerful myth of St. Nick and the importance of not trying to eradicate the myth but instead deepen it so that Santa Claus doesn’t become “a jolly postman who delivers packages at Christmas” but a true saint who reflects and points us to the glory and mystery of God.
The original Saint Nicholas was bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, today’s Turkey. He lived 300 years later than Jesus in the 4th century C.E. Italian merchants and sailors took his body from his tomb in Asia Minor and buried him in Italy where he is still venerated.
That’s all we know historically but around him grew stories and legends and songs and plays and icons like the one pictured here from Russia given to me by friends. Quite a different look from the guy in the red suit! The theme of the stories that arose around this bishop of Myra is of someone who knew how to give and who did so anonymously so that credit did not accrue to him but unto God.
How perfectly then this celebration of St. Nicholas fits into the Advent season in which we hear of John who prepares the way of the Lord and Mary who prepares herself to receive the Lord. This bishop whose saint day we mark this coming Sunday points us beyond himself to the best giver – God and to the best gift – Jesus. He teaches us that giving is not about getting points but about pointing people beyond ourselves to this Giver who is mysterious and worthy of praise.
I loved that my children could have the gift of St. Nicholas on his Feast Day and that he would then help me help them prepare for the gift of Jesus on Christmas.
With Ms. Nelson’s help, I created new rituals for my family that even my husband, albeit with slight rolls of eyes, participated in. My error? I didn’t think through the stocking tradition! We do that on Christmas morning; and so, it seems despite all my planning, St. Nick still stole into Christmas. But I’m thinking that’s okay, because Jesus still takes center stage.
- Pastor Dianne