Archive for December 15th, 2011

December 15, 2011

Saint Nicholas

Santa in Spiller's Lane, Clonakilty

“Santa”, at Spiller’s Lane, Clonakilty

It is hard to imagine Christmas without this jolly looking fellow as an important part of it.  Some well-meaning people, I know, get a bit hot under the collar and think that he gets in the way of what Christmas is really about.  Of course, I have some sympathy with that view, because he seems to be at the heart of all the consumerism that so noisily and brashly competes with the Christ-mas, the celebration of the Story of Christ’s Birth.  Do a little digging though and you unearth not something that is evil and godless but rather someone who was a man after God’s own heart, Nikolaos of Myra, a fourth century Bishop in what is now part of modern day Turkey.

There is naturally a lot of legend and folklore surrounding this man of God, but it’s clear to see that over time the figure of Saint Nicholas, with the Dutch name of Sinterklaas became ‘Santa Claus’, or ‘Santa’ for short.

Perhaps the best known story attributed to Saint Nicholas (from a Wikipedia article) that links him to the modern day version of Santa is the one about a poor man who had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and could therefore have ended up as prostitutes. Hearing of the poor man’s plight, Nicholas decided to help him, going to his house under the cover of night and throwing three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man’s house.

In another version of the story, the purses are thrown in on three consecutive nights.  Nicholas learns that on the third night the poor man plans to intercept him (to see who the mystery giver is) and so he drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

Sound familiar?  Let’s not be too hard on Santa but try instead to rescue him a bit from all the plastic and mayhem, and think of him instead as a godly man who loved to give, especially to those who were in great need – and then with God’s help, let us try to do the same.

Freely you have received; freely give.

Matthew 10:8b