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  A Christian Faith Magazine December 2002, Volume 8, Issue 5  
St. Nicholas A Holiday with Saint Nick
Raymond Guido
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St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, the Patron Saint of Russia, Greece, and Sicily is probably one of the most well known saints. His feast day is commemorated on December 6th and he is the special patron saint of children. The legend of Santa Claus is based on the selfless, giving life of St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas has a curious life story. It is said that he was born in the fourth century to a barren mother because of her tearful prayers to God for a son. After St. Nicholas's birth, his mother was left barren for the rest of her life. Even as a baby, it is said St. Nicholas fasted. He would feed only two days of the week, after his parents said their prayers. St. Nicholas kept up his fasting lifestyle until early adulthood when his uncle, who was the Bishop of Patara, trained him to be a priest. St. Nicholas would later become the Arch-Bishop of Myra, (located in what is now southwestern Turkey), where he would remain for the rest of his life.

Map of Turkey

There are many stories and legends that go along with St. Nicholas' life, but one in particular I remember out of many that I have been told. There was a man in a village who had a young daughter. The man was distressed because she was to be married and the man had no way to pay for the arrangements. St. Nicholas learned of this and late at night threw a bag of gold into the man's window so he would find it in the morning. St. Nicholas kept this secret because he was very embarrassed about being praised as a human being. The next morning the man awoke next to a bag of gold and he praised the Lord for much time and was able to have his daughter married. St. Nicholas soon learned that the man's second daughter was to marry, so he repeated his deed on another evening. When the man awoke next to another bag of gold he praised the Lord again and was determined to find and thank the person who kept giving him bags of gold. Unfortunately, in spite of his endeavors, he did not discover the origin of his good fortune. The man had a third daughter to be married so he slept with one eye open every night until St. Nicholas threw in another bag of gold. When the man heard the gold hit the floor one night, he ran outside to greet the blessed giver. The man discovered it was St. Nicholas and he kissed his feet and thanked him. St. Nicholas' only request was that the man never tells anyone who was giving him the money.

Gold Coins

St. Nicholas is a prime example of someone who does selfless acts and then remains humble about them. As we celebrate the birth of our Lord during the holiday season, we also remember something important that St. Nicholas has shown us; give to others, especially those less fortunate than ourselves. It is fitting that his feast day is celebrated in the same month as Christ's birthday. Both of their lives are exemplified by selfless action. St. Nicholas devoted his entire life to the giving to others. When his parents died, St. Nicholas gave his entire fortune and estate to the poor. He put his life in danger many times to defend the rights of others. He clothed the poor and took care of the sick. St. Nicholas was always looking to care for other people, and he never thought about himself.

In another anecdote, St. Nicholas shows just how much he cares about other people. There was an execution about to occur of three innocent civilians. As the executioner raised his sword to begin beheading the three, St. Nicholas ran up to the man, grabbed his sword and threw it down. St. Nicholas then ordered the release of the men and declared their innocence. No one questioned him because they all believed he was deliberately driven by the Holy Spirit to stop the execution from taking place. St. Nicholas put his own life in jeopardy to save these men because he could not ignore the unjust execution of innocent persons. He stood up for what was right. By his example, he inspires us to not be passive observers but to "do the right thing" when we encounter someone being treated poorly or unfairly in our own lives.

Santa Claus

St. Nicholas was driven on many occasions to prevent acts of evil. Even after his death, people saw visions of the saint who instructed them on how to fix their lives or how to help another's. It has even been said the demons tried to prevent people from visiting his body when it was displayed in the temple of Myra, in Lycra. The emperor at that time, Justinian, built a basilica in his honor. Eventually, his relics were removed and taken to Bari where a new church was built to house them. From then on, St. Nicholas had a very strong following in the West.

St. Nicholas is remembered as the saint who never stopped giving, and we will never forget this great "wonder worker". Today, his image lives on through his life story and through the popular icon of Santa Claus. The central theme of Santa Claus is, of course, the act of giving. Like St. Nicholas, jolly, old Santa gives presents to the good little boys and girls. It is unknown exactly when the practice of giving gifts to children began, but the tradition started in the Netherlands and spread to North America through the Dutch settlers.

The month of December is an appropriate month to examine the life of St. Nicholas and learn from the example of how he treated others. This will prepare us for the celebration of the birth of our Lord on December 25th. St. Nicholas' life was pure; it was almost completely without selfishness from his first to his last breath. We can look at his selfless giving as a model for our own lives. St. Nicholas shows us that we should be more concerned with others than ourselves, and that giving of ourselves to others is the best gift we can offer. He also demonstrated the value of caring for people's material needs as well as spiritual needs. We can emulate his generous way of giving this holiday season by doing our part. For example, we can donate food or work in soup kitchens to help feed the poor, purchase a toy for the Toys for Tots program, or take a tag from a giving tree to buy gifts for someone who might not otherwise receive any. During this holiday season, if you give to others in the spirit of St. Nicholas, you will surely enjoy the true meaning of Christmas.

May the Christmas morning
make us happy to be Thy children
and the Christmas evening
bring us to our beds
with grateful thoughts,
forgiving and forgiven -
for Jesus' sake.

- Henry Van Dyke


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