With a twist of the tongue, “Saint Nickolas” became “sane-nee-clus” and eventually “Santa Claus.” Our American version of the great gift-bearer is based on the life of Good Saint Nick, a fourth century bishop from Asia Minor (Myra, located in modern-day Turkey). As it is with many early Christian saints—strong Christopher who helped sojourners cross rivers, beautiful Barbara who escaped tower imprisonment through lightning, brave George who slayed dragons, recently revived Corona who protects us from viruses—there are few facts known about him, but many legends.
Numerous stories, passed our way, portray him as a man with a big heart, especially for the poor. It may not be factual that he surveyed his diocese, observed behavior, and knew who was naughty or nice. It may not be true that he visited in pleasant weather by boat or horseback to assess needs before returning on a sleigh as winter fell, bearing gifts to help them through tougher months. It may not be accurate that he put fruit, sweat treats, or even coal in shoes outside residents’ doors to provide heat and to warm their hearts. It may not be historical that he snuck into some houses and deposited toys, nuts, or snacks in stockings hung by fireplaces. It may not be fact-based that he sometimes tossed gifts through an open window or chimney as he road along. And he may not have been jolly, round-bellied, white-bearded, cookie-eating, or red-dressed, but his life impacted many families in positive ways. His virtuous character inspires others to share and imitate his generosity. His gracious spirit continues to give hope to youthful beings, and it guides us in ways that enliven the world.
Nicholas is the patron saint of children, among other things. Through him, we tap into the child within us, the child of God that we are, a child that alights with wonder and yearns for miracles, a child that trusts in mystery and believes in magic. Each December we ought to consider that child, recall Christmases-past that enchanted us, and reignite that special feeling that takes our breath away. My prayer this Advent, as it is each year, is for the children. If religious leaders would make decisions on behalf of young people, I think we would be less concerned about protecting our church and spend less time arguing how our faith is better than others; instead, we would teach the next generation about God. If school and political leaders made decisions on behalf of children, I think we would eventually cease from indoctrinating ideologies and legislating party creeds; instead, we would create a healthier and more stable society that benefits the common good to hand on to them.
When counseling parents, l often ask the question “How is what you are doing (in this situation) impacting your kids?” Whether their issue is marital, financial, relational, business, having to do with extended family, school choice, potential separation, or anything else, they should ask “How is my decision impacting our children?” Even if they need to ask the question a hundred times a day as it regards discipline, chores, meals, screen time, outreach to neighbors, relatives, they should ask “How is my attitude impacting my children?” Even if their offspring are grown and have children of their own, they should ask it. It applies to just about everything I do: what I eat and drink, who I associate with, the music I listen to, how I spend my Sundays… If I ask myself the question, “How is what I am choosing here impacting children?” I will make a good choice.
As we celebrate the Feast of Saint Nicholas, let us ask the same question. When we do, we will more likely choose lovingly, with insight, and with the grace of the Holy Spirit. And the spirit of this holy season will reign.