St. Nicholas Day: The Lesson of Giving.

Strolling around the quaint historical buildings that make up the downtown whence I reside, I found myself waxing nostalgic.

The crisp, cold air stung my cheeks a rosy pink as I cupped my steaming hot tea with both hands, gently blowing ripples across the faintly tinted water.

As I looked at the bare trees now lining the avenue, I noticed many of the fallen leaves seemed bejeweled with frost as they crunched beneath my boots.

I smiled with the delight of a child as I pursed my lips and exhaled- a dragon’s ring of fire transcending into the night sky.

Though I longed to be snuggled in by a warm, crackling fire, wearing thermal layers and warm, cozy socks—looking at the ornate Christmas window displays with all the small firefly lights has become a sort of tradition for me.

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Photo Credit: Ideal Home Garden: Michelle Ullman

Growing up, we were never taught to believe in Santa Claus. We were also taught that most theologians believed Jesus was actually born in the spring.

It was very important to my mom to have us always see her as a source of truth—yet our family still celebrated Christmas all the same.

We were, however, taught about all of the tales and different traditions amongst religion: Santa, Rudolph, Frosty, Krampus, Hanukkah, the real St. Nick, etc.

As December 6th is known to be St. Nicholas Day, I would like to tell his tale:

Nicholas was born in the third century in the village of Patara, in modern-day southern Turkey (the area was Greek at the time). His parents were wealthy but they died while he was still young. Nicholas spent his inheritance helping the sick and poor in his village, and eventually, he was made bishop of his area (called Myra).

He lived during the reign of Roman emperor Diocletian, known for his persecution of Christians. Nicholas was imprisoned and exiled at some point of his service, and he was also present at the Council of Nicaea, where he signed the Nicene Creed.

The most famous legend of Nicholas’ service involves three poor sisters who had no dowry, which meant they were unable to marry (and in fact, would possibly be sold in to slavery, as was the custom in those days). One morning, the family woke to three bags of gold mysteriously waiting for them in their home, allowing the girls to marry. Nicholas had tossed the bags of gold into their window at night, so as to remain anonymous (and the legend even says that they landed in socks that were drying by the fireplace).

Another legend states that when a ship full of wheat made port into his town, he asked the sailors to give half of their stash so that he could feed the poor, promising that they’d still have the same amount in their stock. They shared, and as the story goes, the sailors still had the same quantity of wheat in their ship by the time they made port in Constantinople.

He lived during the reign of Roman emperor Diocletian, known for his persecution of Christians. Nicholas was imprisoned and exiled at some point of his service, and he was also present at the Council of Nicaea, where he signed the Nicene Creed.

The most famous legend of Nicholas’ service involves three poor sisters who had no dowry, which meant they were unable to marry (and in fact, would possibly be sold in to slavery, as was the custom in those days). One morning, the family woke to three bags of gold mysteriously waiting for them in their home, allowing the girls to marry. Nicholas had tossed the bags of gold into their window at night, so as to remain anonymous (and the legend even says that they landed in socks that were drying by the fireplace).

Another legend states that when a ship full of wheat made port into his town, he asked the sailors to give half of their stash so that he could feed the poor, promising that they’d still have the same amount in their stock. They shared, and as the story goes, the sailors still had the same quantity of wheat in their ship by the time they made port in Constantinople.

St. Nicholas Center has many more of the legends involving the bishop. Overall, he was known for his generosity in the name of Christ by sharing his wealth among those he served, among those who needed it most.

If you would like to share the story of St. Nicholas with your family, here are some truly great resources to consider:

The St. Nicholas Center has more ideas than you could imagine. They’ve divided up ideas for celebrating at home, church, and school, and they also explore all the ways different countries celebrate the day (it’s much more popular outside North America).

Haley from Carrots for Michelmas explains why her kids get new shoes on St. Nicholas Day, and she’s also written a book full of recipes for feasts during the Christian calendar—including St. Nick.

What’s in the Bible? has a great video explaining the history behind several of our Christmas traditions, such as why it’s called Christmas, why we do Christmas trees, and how St. Nicholas became part of our Christmas celebrations.

They’ve also got a collection of short video clips you can stream.

And here are a few good books:

The True Saint Nicholas, by William J. Bennett, is a fantastic book. Chapters one through three are a great read-aloud for snuggling on the couch as a family and learning about the historical St. Nick in story format.

Saint Nicholas: The Real Story of the Christmas Legend is a good picture book (though some of it is historical fiction).

The Legend of Saint Nicholas and A St. Nicholas Story: The Fiercest Little Animal in the Forest.

The Miracle of Saint Nicholas (which is set in Russia, so it’s not technically about Nick himself—still a sweet story, though).

The Baker’s Dozen: A Saint Nicholas Tale—and right now it’s available for Kindle for only a penny!

“The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God’s giving, by grace, through faith, and that is not of ourselves.” ~St. Nicholas of Myra

When I was younger—every year, at this time, our youth group would gather early in the morning to make approximately 200 sack lunches consisting of sandwiches and fruit. We would also take boxes of warm cloths, socks, coats, sleeping bags, and blankets that we had collected throughout the year and take it to several homeless shelters in the area.

It was an important reminder of the less fortunate, what the spirit of giving feels like, and the reward was always the sweet, tender smile of the grateful.

What are some of the holiday traditions your family enjoys? How do you give back at this time of year?

Author: Mary Rogers

Editor: Caroline Beaton

 

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