One of the things that Jenny and I have struggled with is how to help our kids understand all of the noise and commotion around Santa Claus. Before having kids we both agreed that we wanted Christmas to be about one person: Jesus. As such, we made the decision to not introduce our kids to the concept of Santa. However, with so much attention directed toward Santa Claus and gifts during the Christmas season we knew that this would be a difficult task. So, we decided that it would be better to introduce them to some of the original stories behind the Christmas icon. And this led us to St. Nicholas.
Today, December 6th, is honored as St. Nicholas Day in many Orthodox and Catholic traditions. While there are many strange legends and stories about who St. Nicholas was, a couple of details continue to crop up. First and foremost, Nicholas was the bishop of Myra, a city in modern day Turkey, in the 4th century. He was the son of wealthy parents who died when he was still a boy. He was then raised by his uncle who was also a devout Christian. He was one of the bishops to respond to the Emperor Constantine’s invitation to attend the Council of Nicaea, where he was a staunch defender of Christian orthodoxy over and against the popular Arian heresy.
But what stands out most are all of the stories of Nicholas’s generosity. He was apparently a man who loved the people of Myra and would often give to the needy out of his own wealth. He faithfully ministered to his people during a time of great famine, finding ways of securing food for his diocese and ensuring the planting of new crops. What is clear from Nicholas’s life was that he was a man thoroughly shaped by the selfless love and example of Christ. This is why he has so often been associated with the Christmas season. He stands as an example of a person who points us back to the ultimate gift-giver: God Himself.
This is why we celebrate St. Nicholas Day. Rather than celebrate a marketing scheme dreamed up by the Coca-Cola company, we honor a man who points us back to Jesus. We tell our kids that St. Nicholas prepares us for the gift of Jesus on Christmas. He reminds us that God is a God of generosity. And he shows us how the gift of Christ can truly transform not only our lives but the lives of those around us as we share the Gospel in both word and deed.
Happy St. Nicholas Day.
*If you’re looking for a great way to share the story of St. Nicholas with your own kids, we would direct you to the following book: St. Nicholas (CPH). You can also go to the St. Nicholas Center website for more details and stories about St. Nicholas.