Thursday, December 6, 2012

Happy Feast of St. Nicholas day! Wait, who?!?!

I posted this picture on Facebook earlier today and my husband informed me that it was "weird". Perhaps I should have provided a backstory. After a talk with some friends yesterday about Christmas traditions and where they came from, I started reading about Santa (aka St. Nick) and Christmas Trees and the 12 days of Christmas and all that to sort out what we're doing and why. If you're anything like me, you've been putting up lights, setting up a tree, singing about rudolph and participating in Santa traditions your whole life, while also possibly contending that the "reason for the season" is Jesus, but nonetheless embracing the fun and festive secular traditions as well. I had one friend that made an attempt at reconciling/merging traditions telling her children that Jesus gave the gifts to Santa and Santa just handed them out. Um, yeahhhhh… 

Our discussion yesterday had a lot to do with the difficulty we're having explaining our traditions and beliefs to our children because they TEACH Santa in school. I know, I know, Santa is fantastic. Don't get me wrong. However, Ive got this darn Elf in my house and my kid coming home asking questions about Santa and I find that I have to lie to play along. I feel weird about that. So I don't. I just kind of skirt around the questions by telling her that it's a nice tradition that we participate in to honor St. Nicolas. And of course, she's like "who?!?!" This doesn't square up with what she learns in school of course. And I've never said that Santa isn't real because I'm surely not a grinch! Oi. This is tricky. I sense that my husband may believe I'm over thinking things. Sure I want my kids to enjoy the festivities and the wonder and the mystery of the season- but here's the thing- the TRUTH is so much better! Because, well, because it's the truth. Take the actual day of Christmas for example- we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. GOD. The big guy. Maker of heaven and earth. Who brought the whole world and every human in it into being. Came to us in the form of man- fully man and fully God to live life right along side us. To teach. To reveal His character, His desire for us, His will for all of us. He suffered, died, was buried, ROSE FROM THE DEAD AND ASCENDED INTO HEAVEN. Um- I don't know about you, but I think that is a whole lot better than an also nice story about a chubby guy that lives in the North Pole and makes presents and delivers them to boys and girls with flying reindeer and a sleigh. They're both pretty cool stories. People that are REALLY into presents may even argue that they're equally cool- but- and this is a big but- one of them is TRUE. How much more moving is a movie or a book you read when you know it's a true story?? huh? Again, maybe it's just me, but I think the story of God Incarnate is pretty awesome in itself and although I enjoy the traditions that I've grown up with, I find as I look more into the history of these traditions, the roots are more interesting and fantastic than what we're left with today. 

So, that being said (holy cow, I'm long winded), St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra. The St. Nicholas Center, dedicated to preserving the history of the saint explains 

The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar).
Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need. One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man's daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. Sometimes the story is told with gold balls instead of bags of gold. That is why three gold balls, sometimes represented as oranges, are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. And so St. Nicholas is a gift-giver.

In further reading about the Council of Nicaea, the story is that the council was called in response to heresy abounding- one of which was being perpetuated by Arius, a popular presbyter (his followers were thus called "Arians"; he denied the divinity of Christ and his relationship to God the Father. It is said that discussion at the council became so heated, that St. Nicholas, a bishop in the church, became so agitated he totally lost his head and full on punched out Arius. The council was shocked. Nicholas was stripped of his bishop's garments, chained and jailed. He repented of his actions, but not of his beliefs. During the night, he had a vision of Jesus and Mary asking why he was in Jail. He answered that he was there because of this love for Christ. He was given a bishop's robe and his chains were loosed. He remained there until morning when the Jailer found him free. When Constantine was informed of this, he released Nicholas and restored him as Bishop of Myra. Oh- and the Council decided against Arius in the matter of the divinity of Christ (in case you were wondering). 
I like this story because Nicholas- a bishop, a SAINT lost his head. I lose mine from time to time. Sometimes it's because I'm self centered and selfish and sinful. Sometimes its because I'm jealous for the Lord. I become outraged at the culture I live in and the crimes we don't just commit- but we condone and celebrate, even. I fail to speak gently in response. I get agitated. I lose my joy. And I shouldn't. What I can learn from St. Nicholas is how to move forward. I repent. I need to seek the face of the Lord instead of hiding in shame. And I'm forgiven and restored. Probably not morphed into a jolly old man that makes toys and flies a sleigh led by reindeer, but forgiven and restored for sure!  
What's even MORE interesting is this whole Santa vs. Jesus thing isn't necessary. Santa- the real Santa, was a servant of God! A follower of Christ Jesus that gave everything he had to live a life that was glorifying to the Lord. Like any other man, he made mistakes, but he lived a remarkable life that inspires us to this day, even if we don't realize the roots of that inspiration. Man, if history isn't cool, right? 
Anyhow, so when I saw that picture of St. Nicholas and the caption- "He knows when you've been sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows if you've denied the divinity of Christ, so if you're Arian- Duck!" I laughed. It's funny. Even funnier is this depiction of the event by Alexander Bogulawski- Whack! Take that, you heretic!!!!  

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