Friday, December 5, 2008
Welcome Saint Nicholas!
Put out your shoes and say your prayers, because Saint Nicholas is making the rounds tonight!
The tradition of Saint Nicholas' Eve is in recognition of the life of Nicholas of Myra, a generous man from the 4th century in the land now known as Turkey. Nicholas devoted his life to helping needy children with anonymous gifts and deeds, from a few coins left surreptitiously in shoes to lifesaving exploits worthy of a modern-day superhero. The story most often told of St. Nick involves his help to a poverty-stricken father who couldn't afford a dowry for his three daughters. Nicholas heard of the family's plight and tossed a bag of gold through the family's open window one night, followed by another bag the next night. On the third night, the father stayed up to see if he could catch a glimpse of the mysterious benefactor. But Nick was too clever and instead crept onto the family's roof and dropped a third bag of gold down the chimney, where it was found in the morning at the bottom of a stocking which had been hung to dry over the embers in the fireplace.
Nicholas' deeds inspired a tradition of gift giving on his saint day. Today, children in Europe and elsewhere leave out their shoes (or sometimes a special boot) and some food for the white horse who carries Saint Nick from house to house. In the morning--provided they've been good children in the past year--they will find some gifts in their shoes. If they've been bad, well, we dealt with that in yesterday's post.
Through the wonderful mishmash of traditions that is so common throughout human history, St. Nick's story blended over the centuries with elements of Nordic myth, other Christian traditions, and American commercialism to give us the annual visit of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Whether or not you celebrate Saint Nicholas' Day, today is a good day to reflect on whether you deserve a couple of coins in your shoe or Krampus' switch!