Santa vs. St. Nicholas

 by Fr. Chris Hardman

Has Santa Claus taken over your life yet?  If he hasn't, it is probably because you do not have children or grandchildren or have not been watching television.  Santa Claus is already everywhere you look. 

Now you may be thinking that I am getting ready to say something bad about Santa Claus.  Certainly not!  He has always been nice to me.  But, I do think, what Santa Claus has come to represent here in America is a bit askew from his roots. 

His roots go all the way back to the 4th century and Saint Nicholas who lived in Asia Minor.  He is known as the patron saint of children, sailors, and pawnbrokers.  Now that is an interesting combination isn't it?

He was born into a rich family and from an early age showed a desire to share what he had with others.  One of the stories told about him concerns a father who has three daughters.  When they become marrying age the father thinks of selling his daughters into slavery because he is so poor he cannot afford a dowry.  Back in those days young ladies had to have a certain amount of money or property to bring to a marriage before they could get married.  Anyway, Nicholas hears about this man's plight and in the dark of night throws a bag of gold into their little hovel of a house.  This allows the elder daughter to be married.  A while later he throws another bag of gold in for the next daughter and then later a third bag of gold for the youngest daughter.

For whatever reason, pawnbrokers heard this story and adopted the 3 bags of gold as a sign of their profession.  I know that sounds strange because pawnbrokers are not generally noted for their generosity, but that is the story.

After Nicholas was ordained and made Bishop of Myra, the capital of Asia Minor, he took a trip in a boat to the Holy Land.  On his way a great storm arose and the sailors on the boat became afraid for their life.  Nicholas kneeled to pray with them and the storm stopped and their fears were calmed. 

Nicholas went about doing good everywhere he went and it was not always easy.  He lived in a very difficult time, a time when Christians were being persecuted under the notorious emperor Diocletian.  Nicholas himself was tortured and imprisoned during this time.  Therefore, much of his ministry to those in need came in the midst of great personal turmoil and uncertainty. Maybe that is why I like Nicholas so much. He reminds me of our Lord who in the midst of great turmoil and uncertainty was able to do the same thing-give of himself.

If you can get past the commercial Santa Claus invented and promoted to sell merchandise, what you will see is the story of a man who gave good gifts to others in the midst of a time filled with uncertainty and turmoil.  Perhaps, in your own uncertainty and turmoil you can do the same this year.  Perhaps, you might teach your children and grandchildren the really old story of St. Nicholas and help them emulate him as well?  

Two things come to mind.  First, do something for children in need.  Our 4th, 5th, and 6th graders are promoting Connections for the Homeless.  Take a family off the tree and involve your children in buying the appropriate gifts.  Or, do something else that would benefit children.  Second, do something for a soldier or his/her family.  There is no time of the year that it is harder to be away from home than this time of year.  And I don't care how tough you are when you are in the midst of a war you are going to be afraid sometime.  Receiving a card or letter from someone back home just might help allay some of those fears.  All our soldiers need to know we are thinking about them and care about them.  In addition, helping those families left behind would not be a bad idea either.  Chances are they are afraid and struggling as well.

If you have further suggestions let me know.  May we all begin to emulate St. Nicholas, because he is one of many who emulated our Lord!