“The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.” (Twas the Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore) The countdown to the Feast of St. Nicholas has begun in my house. It is a day that finds my children all waking early in the morning to run out to the fireplace and see what is filled in their stockings. It is also the day our Christmas tree gets set up and our Christmas lights are turned on outside.
There are many stories and legends surrounding the beloved St. Nicholas and numerous miracles attributed to his intercession. St. Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra and from a young age he was generous with the wealth he inherited from his family. He gave away his entire inheritance to help the poor, the sick and the needy.
He lived during the time of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who persecuted Christians. St. Nicholas endured imprisonment, suffering and persecution because of his faith. He died December 6, AD 343, and is the patron saint of children, sailors, ships, unmarried women, those falsely accused and the hungry, to name just a few. Today, he is widely celebrated by children around the world.
One of the more well-known stories of St. Nicholas is about his help of a poor man who had three daughters. The father had no money to give as dowries for his daughters to be married, which meant they would be sold into slavery. On three separate occasions, St. Nicholas left bags of gold in the poor man’s house, having tossed them in through the window. It is said that they landed in stockings or shoes left out to dry by the fire. Thus began the custom of children putting out stockings or shoes.
We all have our own beloved traditions as we prepare for Christmas, some may involve St. Nicholas and shoes others may involve Santa Claus and chimneys, regardless of who it may be the message is giving. It is living out the virtue of generosity not just to our children and families, but to strangers and most importantly to those in need. Seeing and serving Christ in others and not counting the cost.
During this season of Advent, we can take the opportunity to help our children exercise the virtue of generosity. It is a life lesson that also helps them grow in the virtues of gratitude and selflessness. Perhaps it is making a meal for a family in need, giving away toys, tithing to a favorite charity, purchasing diapers for the local pregnancy center or buying items for the giving tree. There are countless ways to help our children live out the spirit of St. Nicholas.
This is the season of giving and we can all experience the joy of St. Nicholas realizing that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) In doing so, we prepare our hearts to receive the ultimate gift on Christmas.