December 6th. St. Nicholas Day. The day that people all over the world are remembering the death and celebrating the life of Saint Nicholas.
Getting to the root of questions like “Who is Santa” and “Was he a real person” lead us back in time to the village of Patara, on the southern coast of modern-day Turkey. Nicholas was born around 270 AD to wealthy, yet devoutly Christian parents who taught him to revere and obey the teachings of Jesus. While still young, Nicholas lost his parents to an epidemic and received his inheritance -- an inheritance that he spent living out Jesus’s command to “sell what you have and give to the poor” (Matt. 19.21).
Nicholas was appointed Bishop of Myra (also located in modern-day Turkey), and his reputation for being generous spread. He became known for his concern and generosity toward the needy, and also for his love of children. Then under Diocletian, one of the most ruthless of the Roman emperors, Nicholas was exiled and imprisoned for his faith. However, after his release he attended the Council of Nicaea in 325, where he vehemently argued for the doctrine of the Trinity -- so vehemently that he slapped (some people say punched) Arius for denying the divinity of the Son! Almost twenty years later in 343 AD, Bishop Nicholas died. Now the day of his death, December 6th, is celebrated around the world as St. Nicholas Day -- a day of remembering the generous saint by giving gifts and feasting.
There are many extraordinary stories of the bishop helping the needy, including one about a poor father of three daughters who had no dowry (payment for marriage) to offer potential husbands. With nothing to offer, the daughters would likely be sold into slavery. But three different times a bag of gold appeared at the home. Tossed through the window, legend has the bags of gold landing in shoes set before the fire to dry. And unknowingly today, we still practice a custom born out of this legend -- hanging stockings on the fireplace for Saint Nicholas to fill.
St. Nicholas Day is celebrated all over the world in different ways -- in many places, its the primary gift-giving day, not Christmas. Parents, don’t waste this opportunity to start a new tradition in your family. Tell your children about the real Saint Nicholas. Let his example help you teach about Jesus’s commands to care for the poor and needy. Be creative! It doesn’t have to replace Christmas, but do something special to remember Nicholas and his generosity. (Parents, its also a great way to remind ourselves a few things about the Christmas season and the Christian message of hope, sacrifice, and generosity.)