Some of you may have found my blog a little on the negative side lately, what with all the posting about HIV/AIDS. I guess I've been feeling a little "activistic" lately, and what with supreme lack of funds, I feel the need to evangelize since I can't just dump $50 toward Amnesty International or UNICEF, MPH or CanAIDS as has been my habit in the past few years -- especially around Christmas.
Instead, I thought it would be fun to focus on something a little more light-hearted, on this first day of the long, dark season.
How about a story? And not just any story, a story about Santa!!
Santa Claus is one of many names for Saint Nicholas. In the Catholic tradition, St. Nick is the patron saint of children, sailors, pharmacists, thieves, girls who want to get married, and prostitutes, among other things.
One of the oldest stories showing St. Nicholas as a protector of children takes place long after his death. The townspeople of Myra were celebrating the good saint on the eve of his feast day when a band of Arab pirates from Crete came into the district. They stole treasures from the Church of Saint Nicholas to take away as booty. As they were leaving town, they snatched a young boy, Basilios, to make into a slave. The emir, or ruler, selected Basilios to be his personal cupbearer, as not knowing the language, Basilios would not understand what the king said to those around him. So, for the next year Basilios waited on the king, bringing his wine in a beautiful golden cup. For Basilios' parents, devastated at the loss of their only child, the year passed slowly, filled with grief. As the next St. Nicholas' feast day approached, Basilios' mother would not join in the festivity, as it was now a day of tragedy. However, she was persuaded to have a simple observance at home with quiet prayers for Basilios' safekeeping. Meanwhile, as Basilios was fulfilling his tasks serving the emir, he was suddenly whisked up and away. St. Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy, blessed him, and set him down at his home back in Myra. Imagine the joy and wonderment when Basilios amazingly appeared before his parents, still holding the king's golden cup.
Another story tells of three theological students, traveling on their way to study in Athens. A wicked innkeeper robbed and murdered them, hiding their chopped-up remains in a large pickling tub. It so happened that Bishop Nicholas, traveling along the same route, stopped at this very inn. In the night he dreamed of the crime, got up, and summoned the innkeeper. As Nicholas prayed earnestly to God the three boys were restored to life and wholeness. In France the story is told of three small children, wandering in their play until lost, lured, and captured by an evil butcher. St. Nicholas appears and appeals to God to return them to life and to their families.
Isn't he great?
But the supposed origins of Santa-N's gift-giving tendencies begins with the story of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman's father had to offer prospective husbands something of valueÂ?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. Nicholas wanted to help the man, but knew he was proud and would never accept money, so one night, he threw three bags of gold in through an open window -- in one version it is said that the one bag landed in each of the girls' 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.
And that's why we give gifts at Christmas. Sort of. The original idea was to give anonymously to those in need. Apparently, some people believe that their child is in need of an iPod or an X-Box 360. Personally, I'll be happy with a new dryer or dehumidifier. :)
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good weekend!
PS; Obviously I didn't just have all this knowledge in my head. I plagiarized much of it from other internet sites. Check them out:
St. Nicholas Center
Wikipedia: Saint Nicholas
Patron Saints Index