In fourth-century Turkey there was a generous bishop by the name of St. Nicholas, now considered to be the patron saint, or protector, of children. St Nicholas was born in 280 AD, in Patara, a city of Lycia, in Asia Minor. He became the gift giver of Myra. His gifts were given late at night, so that the gift giver's identity would remain a secret. St Nicholas was eventually named the patron saint of children. Early in the Advent season some celebrate a feast that has been popular for centuries in Christian countries, especially in Northern Europe. In our over-commercialized society, this holiday gives us a good "teaching moment" to remind children that Jolly Santa Claus, is, in fact, Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop of the city of Myra in what is now Turkey.
Saint Nicholas was renowned for his great kindness and his generous aid to those in distress. Traditional celebrations of Saint Nicholas Day in Northern Europe included gifts left in children's shoes (the origin of our American Christmas stockings). Good children receive treats - candies, cookies, apples and nuts, while naughty children receive lumps of coal. Sometimes coins were left in the shoes, reminiscent of the life-saving dowries the saint provided. Today - especially in families of German extraction - children still put a shoe outside their bedroom doors on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, and expect to find candy and coins or small gifts in their shoe on December 6th.
In the spirit of St Nicholas, we honored the day by observing the tradition. Childrens' shoes were placed outside their doors before they went to bed. St Nicholas stopped by before dawn to leave a gift. May we encourage our children to follow the example of St Nicholas and make gifts for the special people in their lives or to give them whatever help they need.
Just as we can await the arrival of "Saint Nick", may we be ready to receive Christ, when he comes in glory and to share in the banquet of heaven, where he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.