Advent Devotional: Old St. Nick

The Feast Day of St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

Old St. Nick

We take a break from our scripturally inspired devotion to reflect on the legacy of a Christmas figure who looms large over our holiday but who can’t be found in the nativity stories. He has many names, in France he is Pere Noel (Father Christmas). Take a trip across the border to Germany and shouts of the Weihnactsmann (Christmas Man) are heard. Scuttle up to Norway and Julenissen (Christmas gnome) rings from lips. In Russia he is Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost). And all the way in the east in Japan little children speak of Hoteiosho (A priest bearing gifts). This is of course, Santa Claus, the man in red pajamas who drives a sleigh pulled by reindeer and stuffs himself down our chimneys to give us gifts of Christmas cheer.

The story of the historical Saint Nicholas are as wild and wide ranging as his names around the world. Most of his stories sound as real as a man driving a herd a reindeer through the skies. Did he really chop down a tree possessed by a demon? How did he rescue three children who had been murdered and put in brine by a butcher planning to sell them as pork? When did he calm the sea and how true is it that he slapped the early church heretic Arius?

Stories lost in time. Except for one. People regularly tell the story of how in times of need St. Nicholas would give gifts from his families great wealth to anyone in need. I’m glad this is the story that stuck. It has become commonplace in our culture to critique the rampant consumerism of one of the church’s holiest days. And yes to an extent I agree. At the same time giving, gift giving in all its forms, is a rich Christian calling and tradition. St. Nicholas passes this legacy down to us. And if we follow the advice of our good and “jolly” Christmas gnome or Grandfather frost, may we give out of our abundances, of wealth or spirit or cheer or faith, whatever we can give to a world in need. When we do this type of giving we do truly honor the life of our enigmatic man in red.

Rev. Daniel Joyner Miller