Growing up, we never had the fat, bearded man from the North Pole who brought gifts to all the children of the world on Christmas Eve. My parents had made a decision that we would understand that any gifts given at Christmas were given in the spirit of Jesus, who was given to poor sinners. Gifts were not going to be earned by "good behavior," or lost to a lump of coal for bad behavior. (By the way, have you even known any children that have received coal?)
It never seemed to be a problem for me or my sisters. I can't remember any of us "ruining" it for the other kids. And now that I have my own children, I'm starting to understand how difficult it really is to keep Jesus as the entire point of Christmas.
But St. Nick helps us make sense of this all. From the Treasury of Daily Prayer:
Of the many saints commemorated by the Christian Church, Nicholas (d. AD 342) is one of the best known. Very little is known historically of him, through there was a church of Saint Nicholas in Constantinople as early as the sixth century. Research has affirmed that there was a bishop by the name of Nicholas in the city of Myra in Lycia (part of modern Turkey) in the fourth century. From that coastal location, legends about Nicholas have traveled throughout time and space. He is associated with charitable giving in many countries around the world and is portrayed as the rescuer of sailors, the protector of children, and the friend of people in distress or need. In commemoration of "Sinte Klaas" (Dutch for "Saint Nicholas," in English "Santa Claus"), December 6 is a day for giving and receiving gifts in many parts of Europe.
The real Santa Claus is not a fat man from the North Pole who checks his list to make sure whether or not you are bad or good. The real Santa Claus was a Christian, a Pastor, who understood his call to discipleship. He took up his cross and cared for his fellow man--his neighbor. Unfortunately, that story doesn't sell.
This year, in the Truwe house, we stuffed stockings, and tonight after dinner we will have our Advent devotion, crossing off another day gone by, moving closer to the Feast of the Incarnation of our Lord. But tonight, like St. Nicholas did in the 4th Century, we will give gifts, not because our family has earned our love, but because we have first been loved--and undeservedly so.
We won't expect anyone to fall down our chimney this Christmas Eve, but St. Nicholas will definitely be a part of our Advent season, and I hope he's a part of yours.
Almighty God, You bestowed upon Your servant Nicholas of Myra the perpetual gift of charity. Grant Your Church the grace to deal in generosity and love with children and with all who are poor and distressed and to plead the cause of those who have no helper, especially those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief. We ask this for the sake of Him who gave His life for us, Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.