Saint Nicholas lived in the 3rd and 4th centuries in Lycia, Asia Minor, a Greek Province of the Roman Empire that is now part of modern Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a faithful Christian, died while he was young. Inheriting a fortune, Nicholas used all of it to aid those in need. Stories of his devotion, generosity, and care for the vulnerable were carried all over Europe, and he became the most popular saint during the Middle Ages.
How did I become interested in this saint? When our children were small I wanted them to know there was a person of faith behind Santa Claus, and that he represents something more about compassion than consumption, more about giving than getting, more about need than greed. Living here it was easy to add Dutch touches to our St. Nicholas observance. My boys would get two matchbox cars and a bag of Dutch chocolate “gold” coins in their wooden shoes, creating an opportunity to talk about St. Nicholas. This made a small, fun, bright spot early in Advent.
Along with some good friends, I began looking for St. Nicholas figures. They were hard to find then and the hunt was something of a sport. As the collection grew I began having exhibits at the Holland Museum. Then eBay came along, making it possible to add more things that illustrated more Nicholas’ stories and customs. Through eBay, I heard from Jim Rosenthal, then director of communications for the Anglican Communion and one of the world’s foremost St. Nicholas enthusiasts. In 2002 he challenged me to do a St. Nicholas website. www.stnicholascenter.org launched that year and has over a million visitors each year and correspondence from all over the world. The site has grown beyond what any of us would ever have imagined.
Why St. Nicholas? As patron saint for children, his most recognized role, he is a beloved, kind gift giver. However, as I learned more, I came to love him because so many of his stories care for and rescue those who are most vulnerable. He rescued people from starvation, women from slavery, innocents from execution and incarceration, children from kidnappers, and people from usurious imperial taxation. When St. Nicholas saw injustice, he acted. He ought to be the patron saint for advocacy–advocacy especially for those with limited voice and power. Today St. Nicholas would encourage us to speak and act boldly against injustice, including against human trafficking, the death penalty, mass incarceration, hunger, and all kinds of discrimination.
Bishop Nicholas loved God first and foremost and worked to bring about God’s reign of justice and mercy. As he embodied Micah’s charge to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God, Nicholas’ example challenges us to do the same.
Yes, Nicholas is the children’s saint and brings treats and joy to all ages. But that is only the beginning . . . .
Submitted By: Carol Myers