Monday, December 6, 2010

FEAST DAY: Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Today is the feast day of St. Nicholas of Myra, the good man who served as the bishop of that region (in Asia Minor) in the third century during the time of the Roman emperor Diocletian. He was the son of wealthy Christian parents, orphaned at a young age, and as he grew older his desire was obey Jesus' words: "Sell what you own and give the money to the poor."

Nicholas became a priest and was appointed a bishop while he was still a young man. He cared for the poor and the sick in his diocese, was exiled and imprisoned by Diocletian for his Christian faith and attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

One of the stories told about his goodness is the one of the father who had three daughters of marriageable age. The father was poor and couldn't afford dowries for his daughters, which pretty much meant that his daughters were going to be living at home forever mourning because their beaus had gone off to marry other girls, because back then, unless you came with a goat and a pile of quilts and some gold pieces tucked in your shimmy, you weren't wanted and all I can say is thank goodness for the good new days.

Nicholas heard of the father's predicament and instinctively knowing how hard it was going to be for that poor papa to have to listen to the three of them weeping and whining because he was a selfless and generous person who loved to help the poor, he went to the house in the night when the fire's embers were banked up and tossed three pouches of gold coins down the chimney, although I don't think chimneys were invented for a few more centuries, so more likely it was the fire-hole. Although some stories declare that he tossed the pouches of coins in through the window of the man's house. Since this isn't Church doctrine or dogma, it probably doesn't really matter. What does matter is that the three girls got their dowries and went off to marry their young men and the man was able to grow old gracefully in his peaceful house, bouncing fat grandchildren on his knee when the girls dropped by to visit.

When Nicholas died, there were miracles associated with his relics. He was buried in his cathedral church in Myra, which is part of modern-day Turkey. During his life, he was known for his many kindnesses to children, which gave rise to his patronage of them and to the spread of his good deeds and generosity throughout Europe. As the stories of the good bishop spread, he became known by many different names in many different regions: San Nicola, Sao Nicolo and Father Christmas are three of them. In the United States, we took our name "Santa Claus" from the Dutch who settled New Amsterdam; their name for him was Sinterklass, the Netherlands version of St. Nicholas, which brings me to another story.

I have a friend who attended a home schooling conference here in Indiana. There was, as always, a vendors' hall, but there were also lots of workshops available for the attendees. My friend was interested in one titled "Keeping Christ in Christmas," so she went to it, hoping to hear some good advice on how not to let materialism rule your family's life during the season of peace of earth and goodwill to men.

Instead, she got a lecture on, let's see....COULD IT BE SATAN??!! Oh, yes, it certainly could!

"We should have known that allowing our children to believe in Santa Claus was evil," the workshop presenter told the assembled group of mothers, her eyes wide and serious. "Because if you re-arrange the letters of the word 'santa'? You get S-A-T-A-N." Then, according to my friend, the presenter crossed her arms, gazed beadily at the moms and nodded her head smugly.

"Did you...?" I asked.

"Sort of," she sighed. "I said, 'But the word 'santa' is actually an honorific that means 'saint.'"

"What did she say?" I queried.

"She said, and I quote, 'Same thing.'"

"Oh," I said.

"Exactly," she nodded. "So if you're the kind of person who believes that a saint is the same thing as a demon, there's no way I'm going to be able to convince you that Santa Claus is not evil, even if you'd actually prefer not to tell your kids that some jolly old elf is going to fly his magical reindeer onto the roof and come into the house in the dead of night to leave presents under the tree."

"Exactly," I said. "And they don't need to know who really eats the cookies then either, right?"

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