The Counter-Cultural Message of Saint Nicholas

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The feast of Saint Nicholas is upon us and affords us with a perfect time to consider how we celebrate the days leading up to Christmas. A previous post, “Santa and the Elf on the Shelf – What are They Teaching Our Children?” conveyed a message of putting focus on the spiritual rather than on the imaginative secular. The point is that having both real (God) and imaginative (elves) entities, who possess the same characteristics, is often troubling for children possessing a literal or analytical mind. The intuitive nature of even young children often surprises unsuspecting adults. Out of the mouths of babes come all sorts of reality-minded reflections.

Children Want Truth

For the most part, my thesis about the elf was well received. My little sister’s probing question after finding out the ‘truth’ about Santa,

“If Santa isn’t real, is the story about Jesus real?”,

brought home the literal and analytical skills of even a young child. With this in mind, I am sharing some ideas to point us to a mystical faith, founded on real (supernatural) life. After all, our beautiful Catholic Church and her Communion of Saints, provide more than enough mystery and supernatural fodder for the creative mind. Faith enters in, slowly, as we mature and realize the powerful witness they provide.

The Reality of Saint Nicholas

Imagination is such a great tool – why not steer it toward something (or someone) who really exists? Saint Nicholas fits that criteria quite well. Many of the characteristics that portray the ‘spirit of Christmas’ are illustrated by his life.

One of my Facebook friends, who steers away from Santa, shared something said by her son that I thought was so sweet – and telling. He was very curious about how Saint Nicholas would come to their house. When Mom asked what he thought, he replied, “Jesus will probably fly him down from Heaven”. She didn’t scatter pixie dust or tell him secular tales. Instead her son was able to imagine something mysterious about someone who is real.

Accentuate the positive. This is so easy to do, if we just live out our beliefs. Instead of only having Rudolph and Santa books and movies, why not have many more with an Advent, Christmas, or Epiphany theme in your collection? Put more emphasis on the real stories, vs. the pretend ones, and you will be doing much to enforce the beautiful reality of this season.

Who Was Saint Nicholas?

In what is now Turkey, we find the young Nicholas as the son of wealthy parents. However, when his parents died of an epidemic, Nicholas stayed true to his faithful upbringing. He obeyed the words of Jesus to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor”. Nicholas spent his entire inheritance on giving alms to the needy, the sick, and the suffering. The story of how he gave away all of his worldly possessions, so that he could give to alms to the poor, can inspire children to be givers rather than focusing on receiving.

One story attributed to Nicholas tells of a poor man whose three daughters had no money for a dowry. In those days, those without a dowry had no hope of finding a husband. In his kindness, Nicholas is said to have tossed bags of coins into the window this family’s home. Thus he provided the daughters with the necessary funds. This story provides the inspiration for the current tradition of children receiving gold covered chocolate coins in stockings or shoes left out on the evening of December 5th. Each year, across the world, children anticipate awakening on the morning of December 6th (his feast day) and finding these treasures.

As he continued to give alms to the poor, Nicholas became a saintly model of charity for others. So impressive was the giving nature of Nicholas that he was made Bishop of Myra while he was still a young man. As Bishop, Nicholas became known far and wide for his generosity and his love for children. Being from a coastal land, he also had great affection and concern for sailors and ships. To this day he is recognized as their patron saint.

The Communion of Saints

Practice the ‘little ways’. So many wonderful saints have given us examples of how to do great things – one small step at a time. Of course, Saint Therese comes to mind. A simple tradition is to light your Advent Wreath when you pray, eat, or read a book with your children. Little touches such as this tell them that this is an important season, without you having to say a word!

This is also a season to promote awareness of the needs of others and sharing in secret. In keeping in mind that generosity is not about being recognized by others, we can encourage discrete kindness. A quote attributed to Saint Nicholas gives us a perfect example.

“I want people to thank God, not me! Remember, the greatest gift is God’s love. I am just happy to give His love to others”.

Generosity Without Praise

Doing good works is about loving God; it is not about being seen and recognized. Why not encourage little acts of kindness – in secret. Talk about how pleasing it is to God, that we love others, without putting emphasis on how it makes us feel. If we empty ourselves of the need for earthly praise, we leave room for God to fill and overflow us with His love.

As we live out our faith during Advent, let us steer our hearts (and those of our loved ones) back to thanking God, and working for His glory – not ours. Let us be ever mindful that the greatest gift is God’s love. In turn,  let us be happy to “give His love to others”.

Note: Find an amazing array of information, products, and ideas about this giving saint at the Saint Nicholas Center.

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Originally published at Catholic Life in Our Times.

Birgit Jones

Birgit Jones

Birgit finds herself immersed in writing on her blog, Catholic Life In Our Times, where she reflects on current events with a Catholic, pro-life perspective. She also serves as Graphic Editor and Contributing Columnist at Catholic Stand as well as writing for other online Catholic publications.

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