St. Nicholas Day

St. Nicholas Day

  Today is the Feast Day of St. Nicholas.  Who was a real person that our western culture has morphed into a rotund, red and white suited, jolly old elf, that breaks into our homes once a year and tries to make us think that Christmas is about presents and not about Jesus. But that is in no way who the real St. Nicholas was, and on his feast day, I thought it would appropriate to put up some information about the real saint who was a major part of the history of the early Christian Church.

St. Nicholas lived in the third and fourth centuries and was the Bishop of Myra (which is in modern day Turkey).  During his lifetime he was reputed to be a man of great piety who was known for the working of miracles.  It was said that during Nicholas' tenure as Bishop a famine broke out in Myra.  While this was going on a ship docked at the city full of grain, which was the property of the Emperor.  Bishop Nicholas asked the sailors to leave some of the grain to relieve the starving city.  The sailors were hesitant at first but relented after the Bishop promised them that God would make sure that they had the amount they needed for the Emperor.  The sailors off loaded the wheat to feed the city, and when they arrived at the royal palace they were astonished that they had their full allotment of grain for delivery.  That which had been offloaded had been miraculously replaced.  What had been taken off was enough to feed the city for two years - it was no small portion that had been left in Myra.  For this and many other miracles of healing and demonstrations of the power of the Most High, Nicholas was known by the name Nicholas Thaumatouryous (Greek) or Nicholas the Wonderworker.  

How then did this fourth century saint become associated with reindeer, and sleighs, and presents.  Well the first thing we need to know is that our modern name of Santa Clause - is simply the Dutch for Saint (SANTA) and Nicholas (CLAUS).  But the tying of St. Nicholas to presents and generosity goes back to the generosity of the Saint himself.

 The famous story of St. Nicholas is that in Myra there was a father who had three daughters.  In that time if you were going to get your daughter married (at least to a respectable person) you had to provide a wedding dowry, money that would be given to the groom to help the new family as they began their lives together.  However this poor father didn't have enough for a dowry.  So St. Nicholas feeling sorry for the man, went to the man's house at night and threw a bag of gold through the window - so that the first daughter could be married.  Traditions of the story differ as to whether St. Nicholas went back on three consecutive nights, or did this over a period of years as each daughter came of marrying age - but the story holds that St. Nicholas secretly provided this gift of a dowry so that each of the girls could be married.

One version of the story, says that the Father hid in the house on the last night so that he might see who was throwing the bags of gold into the window.  The Father caught St. Nicholas and began to thank him for his generosity in providing for his daughters.  St. Nicholas then looked at the man and told him that thanks should only go to God, for God is the provider of all good gifts.

 From this, the tradition rose in Central and Eastern Europe of leaving gifts on St. Nicholas Feast Day of Dec. 6th.  In many places around the world this day, children woke up to find that "St. Nicholas" had left a small gift in their shoe.  Usually is is something practical like a set of pencils, or an orange, or maybe a bit of candy.

So it made sense in years later when people began to more regularly make Christmas a day of gift giving, in remembrance of the great gift which God has given to us - JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD - that people would transfer the gift giver Nicholas into this day of celebration and we would have children around the world awaiting Santa Claus.

Other points of interest about St. Nicholas are that he was very likely present at the Council of Nicea and was therefore a part of the Church's affirmation of the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and that Christ is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit.  The Council of Nicea is where we got our standard confession of faith - The Nicean Creed.

I don't know how much you know about saints and how they are treated after they die.  But usually pieces of the saint's body are distributed out to many churches and sent to many places as holy relics.  Yes it is a rather grizzly and grim practice (if you really want to be shocked look into what happened to the body of St. Thomas Acquinas after his death - when it was made into relics).  But this was not the case for St. Nicholas.  Most of the remains of the saint are in one place - strangely enough that place is not Myra in Turkey but in the town of Bari, Italy.

St. Nicholas is entombed at the Basilica of St. Nicholas.  Today, 1500 yrs after his death, the bones of St. Nicholas The Wonderworker, still secrete a clear and aromatic liquid which is called myrrh by the church.  This liquid secreted by the bones of the saint is claimed to have healing properties.

So that is a little on the Saint who is the true Santa Claus.  He was devoted his life to the service of God, who gave and helped his people, and who hopefully reminds us that Christmas isn't about presents, it is about the Christ who Nicholas followed and served.

Blessings be to you Now and Always

Pr. Mike

 

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