Jolly Old St. Nicolas
Last week, on Dec. 6th, people in European countries - including The Netherlands and Belgium - celebrated the feast day of St. Nicolas (Sinterklauss), the man who is the inspiration for our present day Santa Claus, the white bearded jolly old man who brings toys and goodies to all of the good little children the world over on Christmas Eve. On St. Nicolas Day in Belgium for instance, children awaken to find gifts that have been left by St. Nicolas in their shoes, and families celebrate with a special dinner together. Yet, who really knows about St. Nicolas, the real-life figure who lived back in the 3rd century; the inspiration for our modern day Kris Kringle?
Nicolas was born to wealthy parents in the city of Patara in Myra (present day Turkey) around 270 AD. He was still young when they died during an epidemic, and they left him their fortune. As a teenager, his feelings of compassion and kindness towards those less fortunate were already evident, and his giving to the poor inspired many legends. One such story has Nicolas hearing about a family that was destitute and starving to the point where the father was ready to send one of the daughters into prostitution. Upon hearing of their plight, he threw a bag of gold coins through their window, saving the family from further suffering. Later on in his life, Nicolas gave away his fortune to the poor, and eventually became a Bishop known for his generosity towards children and sailors (as well as Ale makers!).
In 303 AD, the Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered the persecution of Christians, and Nicolas, along with thousands of others, were sent to prison where they were brutally tortured. Finally, after years of imprisonment, he was released and returned to his home in Myra, where he served the poor for another 30 years till his death on Dec. 6th, 334 AD.
From the example of his life, we can easily see how our modern day version of 'St. Nick' has been inspired. His red bishop robes, his secret gift-giving, and his love for children all survive in our present day version of Santa Klaus. Perhaps, as we celebrate this sacred time of year, we can open our hearts to the true spirit of the historical St. Nicolas, and feel the inspiration that comes through contemplating, and radiating the generosity, courage and Loving service that he lived his life with. In the example of his life, we can easily discover the true spirit of Christmas.