When we first started attending the Episcopal church nine years ago, one of the new traditions we were introduced to was the observance of St Nicholas’ Day.
Nicholas, whose Saint Day is celebrated on December 6th, was born in Greece during the 3rd century. After becoming an orphan during his childhood, young Nicholas was raised by his uncle, the Bishop of Patara. Nicholas’s uncle obviously had a big influence on him, as he went on to become a bishop of the church himself, serving in Myra. Nicholas served his office well, even becoming one of the signers of the Nicene Creed.
But I think what must have influenced Nicholas most was not his uncle’s work, but that someone was kind to him when he was in need. Orphans are some of the most vulnerable people on earth, even those born to wealthy parents. I can only imagine how grateful Nicholas must have been that his uncle took him under his wing and cared for him during his time of need.
This imprint played out in Nicholas’ life as he time and time again became known for his great generosity.
At the little event our church used to host every 6th of December, someone would always dress up as St Nick (and by this I don’t mean the red fluffy suit, but full out bishops’s gear) and tell his story. The one common denominator with the outfit of the legend that manifested from the historical saint was the big red sack.
St Nicholas would come to the children and tell them about his life and how he used his big red sack to toss money into a house where three daughters lived. The family was poor and unable to provide a dowry to their daughters. One the scale of vulnerability in the 3rd century, unmarried young women were pretty much right behind orphans. It was a dangerous status for sure.
So as each girl came of age, Nicholas would sneak over to their house at night and toss in the sack of money. Some legends even have Nicholas tossing the bag into the chimney and landing in the daughter’s hose hanging over the fire to dry. That seems a far cry, but the truth in that story is this:
Nicholas’ is remembered not for his orthodoxy , but for his amazing sense of Generosity.
So as Nicholas’s Saint Day approaches we get ready to remember him again. We will likely remind our children to leave their shoes out (or more truthfully not remind them to put the shoes up) so they can wake up to find them filled with tangerines and three chocolate coins.
As we enjoy the symbolic reminders of Nicholas’ gifts we will take part in our own acts of generosity. In years past we have participated in Christmas parties and collected toys for high risk kids in his honor. This year we will likely spend his day making our annual Christmas charity donations and picking out Alternative Gifts we will give to family and friends.
Whatever your day holds tomorrow, remember ‘ole Saint Nick and find a moment to be generous to another.
Like him, it will probably not be our beliefs that we are remembered for, but how we treated people, especially the people who had nothing to offer us in return.