Sunday, December 6, 2015

Taking Time to Pause on the Feast Day of Saint Nicholas

One of my friends posted this photo 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!

I don't have as many Santa images in my Christmas decorations.  Here's my favorite Santa ornament:

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.

It's always a bit of a surprise to realize that Saint Nicholas was a real person. But indeed he was. In the fourth century, he lived in Myra, then part of Greece, now part of Turkey; eventually, he became Bishop of Myra. He became known for his habit of gift giving and miracle working, although it's hard to know what really happened and what's become folklore. Some of his gift giving is minor, like leaving coins in shoes that were left out for him. Some were more major, like resurrecting three boys killed by a butcher.

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.

Saint Nicholas is probably most famous for his associations with Christmas.

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.

Today, all over Europe, the gift-giving season begins. I had a friend in grad school who celebrated Saint Nicholas Day by having each family member open one present on the night of Dec. 6. It was the first I had heard of the feast day, but I was enchanted.

I like these days that give us an opportunity to pause.  Like many of us this time of year, I'm feeling a bit pressed for time this week, between the end of Thanksgiving travels, relatives arriving tomorrow, and coming into the home stretch of several academic terms.  Your stresses may be different from mine, but I'm betting that you have some that are unique to December.

Today on the feast day of St. Nicholas, let us to stop and think about the Christmas season which is upon us.  I need to start slowing down or the season will have zoomed on by before I have a chance to catch my breath.
May we be led by the spirit of generosity that marks this day.  Let's especially be generous to ourselves as we race from event to event.  May we all find some time to slow down and savor the delights that are unique to this season.

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