Still, I don't do much with this feast day--if I had children or gift-giving friends, I might, but most years, I simply pause to remember the historical origins of the saint and the day.
In different years, I might have spent some time looking at my own Santa objects. One year, my step-mom in law and my father in law gave me these as Christmas presents:
They're actually cookie presses, and the Santa figures are the handles of the press. I've never used them as a cookie press, but I love them as decorations that are faithful to the European country of origin.
My favorite story is the one of the poor man with three children who had no dowry for them. No dowry meant no marriage, and so, they were going to have to become prostitutes. In the dead of night, Nicholas threw a bag of gold into the house. Some legends have that he left a bag of gold for each daughter that night, while some say that he gave the gold on successive nights, while some say that he gave the gold as each girl came to marrying age.
Through the centuries, the image of Saint Nicholas has morphed into Santa Claus, but as with many modern customs, one doesn't have to dig far to find the ancient root.
I picked it up in May of 1994 or so. I was visiting my parents, and I went with them on a trip to Pennsylvania where my dad was attending a conference. I picked this ornament up in a gift shop that had baskets of ornaments on sale. I love that it uses twine as joints to hold Santa together.
In the past decade, I've been on the lookout for more modern Saint Nicholas images. A few years ago, one of my friends posted this photo of her Santa display to her Facebook page:
I love the ecumenical nature of this picture of Santa: Santa statues coexisting peacefully with Buddha statues. And then I thought, how perfect for the Feast Day of St. Nicholas!
This year, I have a new favorite Saint Nicholas image, courtesy of my cousin's wife:
In this image, Santa communicates by way of American Sign Language. As I looked at the background of the photo, I realized Santa sits in a school--the sign on the bulletin board announces free breakfast and lunch.
The photo seems both modern and ancient to me: a saint who can communicate in the language we will hear, the promise that the hungry will be filled.
In our time, when ancient customs seem in danger of being taken over by consumerist frenzy, let us pause for a moment to reflect on gifts of all kinds. Let us remember those who don't have the money that gifts so often require. Let us invite the gifts of communication and generosity into our lives.