Monday, December 05, 2011

The Feast of Saint Nicholas

I'm not a big fan of Santa Claus. I was, but I'm not anymore. I am, however, of the mind that remembering a person who those around him felt that he (or she) wholeheartedly and meaningfully participated in the life of his community is time and thought well-spent. And that is what happens at feasts. At Christmas dinner stories about my great-aunt and great-uncle always come up. For me and my family it would be impossible to think of Christmases Past without them and their home. Out of their love and generosity they have left us with some very special memories now that they themselves have passed away. In the same way, that's what the feast of St Nicholas is about: making room for stories and traditions to be reborn in ourselves.

The historical Good 'Ole St Nick was a fourth century bishop in what is now modern day Turkey (he isn't Santa Claus, but the present day Claus is a construct (maybe you could even say 'a mutation') of earlier characters that were inspired by the real deal...don't mix them up now). There are more than a few traditions surrounding his life, but there is one in particular that is better known than others. There was a family who had a daughter but no money to offer as a dowry so that she could be wed. Just like many places nowadays, once the daughter reached a certain age her family would shed their financial responsibility towards her and she would have had to find a means to live elsewhere. If she were to marry, her husband and his family would do this. But without a dowry this wouldn't happen. Life would have been quite desperate. And of course, desperate times call for desperate measures: if nothing else, it would have opened the door of possibility to a life of prostitution for the daughter. Seeing and understanding the girl's situation, tradition says Nicholas left three gold nuggets on the family's window one night so that with them the family had a dowry to offer for their daughter. A happy ending, right? If you have ever found or even gave a mandarin orange (or three) in a stocking and never knew why that sort of thing is done, now you do. It is the tradition of this story being kept alive. The mandarins symbolize the gift of the gold nuggets.

An example like his is a good one to keep in mind around Christmas holidays. Sometimes the holiday might look more like Stuffmas. Of course, the gold nuggets are the gift in the story, but they wouldn't have been if someone hadn't looked hard enough to really consider what was important to the daughter. Part of the gift was his involvement in her life, which is how Nicholas was probably able to become aware of what was important to the daughter and her family. When we concentrate (not just at the holidays) on truly being as fully present as possible with and for the people we love, what just-the-right Christmas gift for them would be should become clear.

Every year December 6th is St Nicholas' feast day. The date flies under the radar of most North Americans, but in Belgium it is a BIG day. When we were there every single chocolate shop in Brugge (and that's no small number) was filled with chocolate St Nicks. Though we weren't in Brugge for the 6th, by the stroke of luck, he came to visit us, along with Kevin and Vicky, so to get us really excited for his upcoming feast!

Happy St Nicholas Day!

p.s. Ho-ho-ho hold your breath...we will be back in Canada in just about two weeks!

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