When my sister put a figure of St. Nicholas next to the Magi in our nativity scene, I questioned her decision. I cried, “Santa Claus wasn’t there!” In all the times I heard the story about the birth of baby Jesus, no one had mentioned a jolly old red-suited guest chuckling, “Ho, Ho, Ho!” next to the manger. (Besides, the inn may have had a chimney, but Jesus was born in the stable.) My sister wisely told me, “Saint Nicholas has earned his place there.”
She was right.
I don’t doubt her vision of the nativity. Yes, Virginia, there was a Saint Nicholas, and he deserves to be remembered for his good deeds at this time of year. St. Nicholas was an actual person who lived in the southern coast of Turkey (which was Greece in the third century). He devoted his life to compassionate service for those less fortunate: the poor, the sick, and the suffering. St. Nick used his entire inheritance to help others in need. He lived out the virtue of generosity, which stems from a word for “noble birth.” From a nobleman to whom much was given, much was expected. And St. Nicholas exceeded expectations and became a saint that even those who don’t believe in saints believe in. Father Christmas became a bishop and was canonized a saint, and his relics are believed to have miraculous qualities.
Although Santa Claus is very popular today, St. Nicholas wasn’t liked by everyone in his day. Roman Emperor Diocletian exiled and imprisoned him. Ironically, we praise the man today who was persecuted yesterday. St. Nicholas sounds a lot like the Son of Man who lived over two thousand years ago and is (hopefully) remembered on December 25.
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