St. Nicholas was born in Lycia, in Asia Minor, somewhere in the early 4th century. He was to become Bishop of Myra and had a reputation for being kind, loving and deeply devoted to children. Legend has it that he regularly roamed poverty stricken villages, leaving gifts of food and clothing on the doorsteps of families and small, hand-made toys and diversions for young children along with the necessities of daily life. Bishop Nicholas once listened patiently to the story of a merchant who was despairing over the fact that he had no proper dowry for his three daughters meaning that they would never be able to marry. Bishop Nicholas sought to remedy this sad state of affairs but he was a shy man and humble so, in the dark of night, he climbed up on the roof of the merchant's home and dropped three bags of gold down the chimney-- one for each daughter. The story has it that the bags dropped into the girls stockings which were hung up to dry by the fire! Over the centuries, the story of St. Nicholas made its way north and into the Netherlands where the Dutch, calling him "Santer Klaus" and elaborating on the idea of the Saint bringing gifts and food to deserving children, began celebrating his Patronal Feast, on December 6, by leaving children's shoes out of doors where the roaming Saint might fill them with treats and money. Later, in England, the idea of Father Christmas developed, reverting back to the idea of arriving via the chimney, carrying packages in a sack to be placed in stockings hung up on the mantle, or on a shelf in the home. From the 19th century on, and especially after the publication of Clement C. Moore's epic poem, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas', our modern idea of Santa Claus developed from the long ago and loving action of a kind and holy man.
Tonight is St. Nicholas Eve and in our house, this is the night when the children's shoes are left out on the porch to await the arrival of St. Nicholas who will, it is expected, leave a Christmas ornament in one shoe, and some kind of sweet treat in the other. This ushers in the more festive part of the Advent season for our family as we have now set up our Creche, lights and the "Wooden Santa Shelf" under our living room window. I have collected a variety of wooden Santas' over the years; some are very much "Bishop Nicholas" replications in dark blue or green Bishop's robes, and some are quite Victorian looking, a few others are modern and several have an arts-and- crafts look about them but all find a home, for a few weeks, on our window shelf, with Christmas lights over the window, surrounded with greenery. We've always tried to strike a balance between maintaining Advent as a separate season, ensuring that Christmas does not start in our home until December 25th but we are very happy and enthusiastic celebrants from the 25th until Epiphany, January 6th! I have always loved Advent and the contemplation of the incarnation and nativity of the Christ child during this time; it's a quiet and lovely few weeks of peace, joy and contentment. I particularly love our candlelit little cabin of a house at this time of year, enjoying the way the light looks indoors, even during the daytime and especially when it has snowed heavily as it alters the look of things inside and out.
Welcome, St. Nicholas, to our home! Thank you for your generosity and loving kindness. May we all seek to show the same to those we love and especially, to those who may have no one to care for them, or about them. Remember the frail and elderly neighbor, or the widow living alone. Remember the children in your town or city that may have need of a "Santer Klaus" to fill their shoes with food and money; for all those who live without "the necessities of life"; for those who are homeless. Remember that this time of anticipation is about making preparations for Light and Love coming into the world--both are as needed as they ever were, perhaps more so. Mother Teresa of Calcutta told us that "We can do no great things, only small things with great love." Do your own small things with generosity of spirit and with all the love you have to give! The time is brief ~ Be kind to one another. Blessings and joy on your homes and families ~ Happy Saint Nicholas day to you all!