Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Celebrate the real Santa Claus

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Dec. 2, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell Celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas, Dec. 6, can help families set a tone for Advent and Christmas that is fun, and still focused on the real meaning of the holiday.

St. Nicholas is one of the most popular and well-known saints, and his feast day is observed around the world.

Many legends surround this man who is the original “Santa Claus.” He was born about 300 years after Jesus, in the area we now know as Turkey. As a young man Nicholas became a monk; eventually he rose to archbishop.

But the stories we hear are not about a rise to power, but about a man who showed a great love for children, and who practiced charity and compassion for the poor.

One of the most well-known stories of St. Nicholas tells of a poor man with three daughters. With the family nearly starving, the father feared he would have to send his girls into slavery, thinking that at least then; they would have food to eat. Nicholas heard of the man’s troubles and in the secret and dark of night he tossed three bags of gold down the family’s chimney.

In France, St. Nicholas is known as a special protector of children. A popular story there tells of a wicked butcher who lured three lost boys into his shop. There he salted them away in tub of brine. Only a miracle could bring a happy ending to this story, and that’s exactly what St. Nicholas is credited with — bringing the boys back to life and restoring them to their families.

In many countries it is on the Feast of St. Nicholas rather than Christmas that the children receive gifts. For example, in Austria, it is believed that God rewarded Nicholas’s generosity by allowing him to return to earth each year and bring gifts to children. The children leave shoes outside their doors in hopes the saint will pass by and leave small toys, oranges, nuts or candy. They imagine him dressed in flowing bishop’s robes, with a staff and a large book listing their good deeds. He leaves gifts for those who have been good the previous year.

In other regions, such as Bulgaria and Greece, St. Nicholas is famous as the protector of sailors and fisherman. In Russia, St. Nicholas has still yet another face: There he is celebrated as the patron of farming and cattle.

Consider celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas in your own family. A fitting way to mark the feast day is with an act of generosity toward the poor. Ask your children to think of ways the family might follow the example of St. Nicholas by helping those in need. Pick one thing your family can accomplish and commit to it. Before bed, your children may want to put out a shoe just in case St. Nicholas passes by. (Maybe have gold foil-covered chocolate coins on hand to leave in their shoes.)

Some ideas for celebrating the Feast of St. Nicholas:
• Go shopping for warm socks or gloves and drop them off at House of Charity, (32 W. Pacific) St. Anne Children and Family Center, (325-7667) or Crosswalk (525 West 2nd Avenue).
• Buy extra groceries and donate them to the food bank.
• Offer an evening of childcare to a single parent you know. Involve your whole family in preparing a simple dinner and fun games or activities for the children.
• Visit a bookstore and let your children pick out some favorite books. Buy them and take them to the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Center or the West Central Community Center. Ask that the books be given to boys and girls who might not have books of their own at home.
• Take time to tell or read your children the story of the real Santa Claus.

© 2004, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. She is the author of the new children's novel Fire in the Hole, from Clarion Books.

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