Christmas with Saint Nic

From the desk of Geoff Bradford:  The historical evidence for St Nicholas, the original Santa Claus, is thin and sparse. We know only a few things out of history about him. He was a bishop at Myra, in Asia Minor near modern Finke in Turkey, and is said to have lived around the year 325 CE. In 1807, Italian merchants and sailors took his body from his tomb in Asia Minor to place it in a new shrine in Bari, Italy, where it is still venerated today. His feast day, 6th December, is placed in the Church’s calendar of Advent so the gift giving comes at the time of our Christmas preparations, to prepare the way for the Gift at Christmas.

From here, the evidence of his archetypal reality bursts into a host of legends, icons, plays and folk practices drawn out of Eastern and Western Europe where he became the ultimate gift-giver, reflecting the Divine Gift celebrated at Christmas. We can only glean from this that he was a very generous man. You most likely all know the story of the three young orphan girls who were destitute for Christmas and hung three stockings over the dying embers in their fireplace as a gesture of hope. Nicholas was said to have thrown a coin of sizeable denomination into each stocking as he stood outside their open window. So the stockings of Christmas and the gifts of Santa arose. Today the image of the Santa in a red suit lined with white fur was sculptured by the Coca Cola Company in America. The image is drawn from St Nicholas’ red cope, the ceremonial garment worn by priests and Bishops at special celebrations, which in common belief was outlined with white orpharies (trimmings).

Our Santa Claus is a valuable mythical image. Real myths, such as what has grown up around Santa, as well as sacred occasions, invite us to engage in both sides of our fundamental psychological condition – the inner truth which is of dark and light and is always calling us on and into mystery. Whether we consider St Nicholas or Santa we need to be aware that to dismiss this wonderful man is not only a travesty to all children but also a sadness for grown-ups who want to be oh so adult. We need to believe in Santa. Not just the man at the shopping centres, but the spirit of Santa that resides within us and allow him to be real there. Allow him to be active there. Santa is real in the functioning of all human beings when we work for generosity, justice and creativity. These are the gifts of all mythical figures. These are the gifts of the embrace of Santa. The great core of that gift of course is love and how dare we ever deny that great life-giving spirit.

Santa may change aspects for us as we travel through life but we should never let the image die away. Christmas without such a wonderful image would be an austere thing indeed. What would our kids miss? Why is it that when we approach the Divine it has to be so bland?

As a child I remember groping my way around the base of the bed in the dark, trying not to wake Mum and Dad before they were ready. I would reach down and see how full the sack was and then sneak out of bed to see if Santa had eaten the biscuit and drunk the milk left out in the kitchen. Then it was back to bed but no sleep till Mum and Dad woke up for I always wanted them there with me to see what Santa had brought. No sleep because I was so excited and filled with expectation. I wasn’t that good for I always woke them no matter how quiet I thought I was and they would soon come in after enjoying a bit of mirth at my expense. The joy of Christmas morning filled a little fellow’s heart.

I invite you all to craft more Santa into Christmas and forget that he has been so commercialized. Let us ignite the joy of Christmas by celebrating St Nicholas as Santa. Let Santa roll at Christmas, not just for the kids, but for all whose hearts want to be young and involved in the creative, loving mystery of the Divine.

Wishing you, and those you love, a wonderful Christmas Season,

Geoff and Helen


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