Monday, December 6, 2010

Feast of St. Nicholas ~ December 6th

Patron Saint of children, sailors, fishermen, merchants, the falsely accused, repentant thieves, pharmacists, archers, and pawnbrokers.

St. Nicholas was born during the third century, circa 270 A.D., in the village of Patara, Lycia, Asia Minor. His birthplace was at the time part of Greek territory and is now considered the southern coast of Turkey. Nicholas' parents were financially and spiritually wealthy and raised him to be a devout Christian. They died during an epidemic when he was still young.

Nicholas eventually sold everything he inherited from his parents to help the needy, sick, and suffering, and dedicated his life to serving God. He was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man, living in imitation of Christ by serving as protector and helper of those in need. Nicholas became well known for his generosity, a love for children, and concern for sailors and ships. Word of him spread as sailors told the story of his holy life on their journeys around the world. Nicholas was well known for his giving of gifts in secret, such as leaving coins in the shoes of people in need who left them out, and became the model for Santa Claus.

In his time Christians were terribly persecuted by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who had many bishops, priests, and deacons exiled, imprisoned, and tortured for their love of God. Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith as well and was imprisoned. Following his release he attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. Nicholas died on December 6, AD 343-6 in Myra, Lycia. Manna formed in his grave and the healing powers of this substance contributed to the spreading of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration. His relics were translated to Bari, Italy in 1087 and his major shrine is the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari.

Traditional celebrations on this day vary. St. Nicholas is celebrated as patron saint of many families. He is one of the most celebrated saints in Macedonia. In Poland children find candy and small gifts under their pillow the morning of his feast day. The American Santa Claus and Anglo-Canadian and British Father Christmas were inspired by legends of him.

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of the town of Beit Jala, a little town two kilometers to the west of Bethlehem. St. Nicholas spent four years there during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Every year a solomn Divine Liturgy is held in the Orthodox church of St. Nicholas, and is usually followed by exhibitions, parades, and activities. Arab Palestinian Christians of all denominations and churches go there to participate in prayers and celebrations. 1

Celebrations of his feast day take place on the eve of the feast or on the actual feast day. One significant way to celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas is to emphasize the importance of giving and service as we strive to live in imitation of Christ. This can take place within the context of a celebration at home, where activities can center around the celebration of the Season of Advent, and a special meal together can include the retelling of his story and legacy. The Christian values of St. Nicholas can be shared by helping others in need, being kind to others, or resolving to overcome a fault.

The Custom of the Shoes

My children continue the global and personal family tradition of leaving one shoe out on the Saturday evenings of Advent. Upon awaking on Sunday morning they rush down and see what surprise St. Nicholas left for them in their shoes. Sometimes they receive candy, and other times they receive a small gift, such as a Christmas ornament signed and dated by St. Nick that is added to the family tree each year.

The actual Custom of the Shoes varies but essentially each child leaves a shoe or boot outside a bedroom door, by the chimney, or by the front door on the eve of St. Nicholas’ feast day. That evening the family is visited by “St. Nicholas” who has a wrapped gift in one hand and a stick in the other. Each child is evaluated on their behavior throughout the preceding year.
St. Nicholas asks, “Tell me now, in what great ways have you grown to deserve the praise and presents of St. Nicholas? And what bad habits have you tried to overcome? Shall I surprise him/her tonight with gifts or the stick?” The children answer, “GIFTS!” In the Netherlands, the myth was that if a child had not been good, they were put in sacks and taken to Spain! Before the children went to bed, the custom was to leave a bit of grain or a carrot in their shoe for St. Nicholas’ horse. 2

The morning of the Feast of St. Nicholas, children awoke to the discovery of gifts that had been left in their shoes overnight, symbols of the spirit of caring and generosity shown by St. Nicholas to others during his walk with Christ. Some children received coal instead if they had been naughty.

May we all strive to imitate the virtues of our advent saint Nicholas, beloved servant of God as we ready our hearts to welcome Jesus on His birthday. "...Nicholas is a good Advent saint for more important reasons than the date of his special day. Whatever he did…may not be as important as the way he did it. Nicholas became so popular because he was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. His life clearly reflected the way each one of us is called to show God’s love to others, especially those in need.” 2

What a beautiful way to honor St. Nicholas and love God in return, by doing what Jesus asks of each one of us.

Prayer to St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas, Glorious Confessor of Christ,
assist us in thy loving kindness.
Glorious St. Nicholas,
my special Patron from thy throne in glory,
thou dost enjoy the presence of God,
turn thine eyes in pity upon me
and attain for me from our Lord
the graces and help that I need
in my spiritual and temporal necessities
and especially this favor (mention)
provided that it be profitable to my salvation.
Be mindful likewise, O Glorious and Saintly Bishop,
of our Sovereign Pontiff of our Holy Church and
of all Christian people.
Bring back to the right way of salvation
all those who are living steeped in sin,
blinded by darkness of ignorance, error and heresy.
Comfort the afflicted, provide the needy.
Strengthen the fearful, defend the oppressed,
give health to the infirm.
Cause all [men] to experience the effects
of thy powerful intercession
with the supreme giver of every good and perfect gift.


Say one Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be to the Father.

Pray for us, Oh Blessed Nicholas,
that we may be worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us Pray,

O God who has glorified Blessed St. Nicholas, thine illustrious Confessor and Bishop,by means of countless signs and wonder, and who does not cease daily so to glorify him ,grant we beseech thee, that we, being assisted by his merits and prayers, be delivered from the fires of hell and from all dangers through Christ our Lord.


God is at work in you!