December 6–The Feast of Saint Nicholas

Today we remember Saint Nicholas.  He lived in present-day Turkey from 270 to 343.  Nicholas was present at the Council of Nicea where he signed the Nicene Creed in 323.

Saint Nicolas was known for his secret gift-giving, including leaving coins in children’s shoes which led to our modern celebration of Saint Nicholas Day on December 6.  The legend of Nicholas spread northward to Holland and came to New York with the Dutch settlers.  Eventually, the legend morphed into Santa Claus and associated with Christmas.

But gifts and money are still given in some areas on December 6.  So, leave your shoes out tonight.  Who knows?  You might get some gifts.

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Jolly old Saint Nicholas?  or How a 3rd century Greek saint became a commercial icon.

Saint Nicholas (the real guy) at Saint John Nepomuk Church, Saint Louis

Saint Nicholas (the real guy) at Saint John Nepomuk Church, Saint Louis

Today we remember Saint Nicholas, the real guy, not the fat man in the red suit.  Nicholas was the son of wealthy parents.  When they died, Nicholas used his entire inheritance to take care of the poor.  There are dozens of examples of his generosity including a story of him leaving bags of gold for three young women who couldn’t afford the necessary dowery to be married.  He tossed the money through a window in the dark of night being too humble to accept credit for his generosity.  Hence the custom of leaving shoes out on the night before Saint Nicholas’ feast day to be filled with candy and other small gifts.  [Note:  Your favorite blogger has left his shoes out for years and has yet to get even one piece of candy.]

Somehow this tradition has morphed into the Santa Claus/Christmas tradition.  While many of us still celebrate Saint Nicholas’ Day on December 6, Nicholas’ alter-ego, Santa Claus, does his thing on December 25.  Where Nicholas specializes in small gifts, Santa (who’s parents must have REALLY been rich) leans more towards  video games and anything that starts with a lower-case i.  (iPads, Iphones, iPods, iCadillacs, etc.)

The thing that seems to have begun the real metamorphosis was the book published in 1823 which we now know as “The Night Before Christmas” by Clement Moore.  The book was originally titled “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.”  Moore describes Santa Claus but calls him Saint Nick.  The confusion lives on.

So, as we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child, let’s remember the spirit of giving that marked the life of Saint Nicholas.  His generosity earned him a place in the cannon of saints.  We’re not distracted yet by the piles of loot that will show up on Christmas morning.  Have an orange or a Hershey Bar, find a quiet place, and reflect on our call to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Happy Saint Nicholas’ Day