Monday, December 7, 2009

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas

When our last two children were born, we decided not to "do the Santa thing." We made a decision to try to keep the Christmas holiday focused on Christ. We felt that playing the Santa game made it all about commercialism and not about the savior. Our older two were in highschool and felt that we were cheating their sisters out of great memories. So we've decided to add to our advent calendar a special celebration for Saint Nicholas.

I don't really know if he was jolly but yesterday was the official day to celebrate Saint Nicholas. Unlike Santa Claus, St Nicholas was a real person.  He was a believer of Christ who was born during the third century in what is now the southern coast of Turkey. He was orphaned by his wealthy parents while still young. But their teaching of the gospels encouraged him to obey the words to "sell what you own and give to the poor." He used his entire inheritance to assist the needy. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made the Bishop of Myra. He was known throughout the land for his generosity. When the Roman Emperor Diocletian was persecuting Christians, Nicholas was put into prison and exiled. There is evidence that he did attend the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. He died on December 6, 343 AD. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St Nicholas Day.

St Nicholas in prison
St. Nicholas in prison
Artist: Elisabeth Jvanovsky

St Nicholas giving gold to father
St. Nicholas giving dowry gold
Artist: Elisabeth Jvanovsky

 There are many stories associated with St Nicholas.  One story that my friend Lynette told me is about a poor man with three daughters.  In those days a young woman's father had to give the prospective husband a dowry-  something of value like land or money.  The larger the dowry the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband.  Without a dowry, a girl was likely to be sold into slavery.  This poor father's daughters were destined to a life of unhappiness.  Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold was tossed through an open window into the girl's stockings or shoes that had been left to dry by the fire.  This is where we get the custom to put things of value into a stocking hung by the fire.  Because of St Nicholas' generosity, the girls were able to provide a dowry and marry well.

Last night after driving down the mountain, we popped a couple of Nick and Willy's pizzas (the mediterranian is my favorite and appropriate since St Nicholas lived on the coast of the Mediterranian Sea.) into the oven and then talked about St Nick.  We reviewed what we had learned about him last year and how he is different than Santa.  Then after eating we brought out the stockings.  The girls each got an ornament for the tree and a few other little gifts.  I did not spend more than $10 each.  The point is not to get more "things" but to learn about the generosity of another believer.  I hope to expand this next year.  I'd like to get a nice book on the real St Nick to read yearly.  I would also like to spend more time planning on practical ways to live out his example.

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