I’m not sure if it’s me, but Christmas seems to have arrived early this year. Christmas trees, decorations, carols playing in the shops all began appearing in early November and the displays in John Lewis are truly extravagant.
When we lived in Germany it was very different. In December Christmas markets would appear in the towns and cities but no carols until a couple of days before Christmas day. The music would be Advent hymns and the decorations muted; and generally with a Christmas theme. Images of Saint Nikolaus were less vibrant than our Father Christmas and usually, he wore green jacket and trousers.
When we visited Holland, we discovered Saint Nikolaus became known as Sinterklaas; pretty obvious where our Santa Claus comes from.
The real Nikolaus was born to very wealthy parents in Asia Minor. Devout Christians they grounded Nikolaus education in Christian teaching. Sadly, they died in an epidemic whilst he was still young. Following Jesus’ instruction to the young ruler; Nikolaus gave all his wealth to the poor and became a monk. Such was his dedication, piety and devotion to Christ he was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man.
Nikolaus was known for his generosity to any in need and was credited with saving the lives of three men wrongly accused of a crime and awaiting execution. He had a special concern for sailors and shipping; legend has it that while returning from a Holy Land pilgrimage the ship was caught in a fierce storm and was in danger of sinking. Nikolaus prayed quietly and the storm ceased and everything was suddenly calm. Saint Nikolaus is the patron saint of sailors and voyagers.
One story is of a poor man with three unmarried daughters. Such was the situation that if they remained unmarried, they would be forced into prostitution; without a dowry marriage was impossible. Amazingly, one evening the poor man found a small bag of gold in his sock hanging to dry by an open window: this provided his oldest daughter’s dowry. This was repeated twice more as his younger daughters came of age. It was attributed to Nikolaus. Perhaps not surprisingly, it became common practice in the town for children to leave their
socks by an open window at night.
It’s difficult to separate truth from fiction when looking at historical figures from so long ago. Type ‘St Nicholas’ into your web browser and discover the endless list of miracles attributed to him. One thing is clear and is historically true; the man we know as Saint Nikolaus understood his call to follow Christ as one of service and care for others.
A wonderful example for us all this Christmas time.
Kathryn and I would like to wish you all a very happy Christmas.