St. Nicholas: his official 'look'

Day 341 of 366 Blog Challenge 2012

Hello all

While I was doing my housework this morning here in Australia, hundreds of thousands of children in Europe (perhaps more) were hanging up their ‘shoes’ for St. Nicholas before going to bed. Their parents probably were discussing who had been “naughty or nice” during the year so that St. Nick would fill their shoes with delightful presents.

st nicks dayYou see, today is the Feast Day of St. Nicholas. And believe it or not, this forerunner of Santa Claus, really did exist. He is not like St. Christopher who was proved to be a myth or even St. Cecelia another imposter. Luckily for me,  my patron St. Therese of Lisieux definitely did exist! What’s more, I was fortunate enough to visit the small town of Lisieux in France and take a tour of her home. I walked the streets that she walked … and it felt very special.

I even saw the very mantle over the fireplace, in the front vestibule of the house where Therese had hung up her shoes in 1886 for St. Nicholas to fill them for Christmas. I know this because she wrote of the incident in her autobiography published after her death. She knew it was really her father filling the shoes, but when she came home from midnight mass and there were no goodies in the shoes (he had forgotten to fill them) she resisted the urge to cry.

She told herself that at 14 year of age, it was time to grow up. A year later, she had entered the Carmelite Sisters in Lisieux. Ten years later she had died of tuberculosis. Some twenty years later she was declared a saint: my amazing ‘Little Flower’ who I was named after by my mother! So even my patron saint was putting up her shoes all those years ago.

Now we need to know a little about St. Nicholas. He was born in the third century in what was Greece but is now part of Turkey. He is also known as “St. Nicholas the Wonder Worker” which tells us that he has been known to answer prayers in miraculous ways down throw the centuries. He is also known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need.

The procession In another interesting coincidence, Geoff and I visited the Basilica di San Nicholas in Bari (Southern) Italy in 2008 during the same trip as mentioned earlier. This is where Nicholas’ bones were brought on May 9th 1087. So every year on this date, Bari has a huge folk festival to celebrate the event. It is called by the unforgettable name of: The Festival of the Translation of the Nicholas Relics.

Bari just loves St. Nicholas but we did not realise the importance of Bari for him until after we came home. And just what was the significance of this town for St. Nicholas? He never lived here. In fact, his bones were stolen from Myra where he was interned. But I must tell you the story for it is fascinating:

Early in 1087, three ships with sailors and merchants from Bari stopped in Myra on their way home from Antioch. The monks there became suspicious of the sailors and asked:

Surely you do not intend to take the saint’s remains to your own region? If so, we won’t allow it.” However, in the end the Barians prevailed and broke open the tomb with an iron bar. The sailors spirited the bones away to the ship, escaping just ahead of the townspeople coming in hot pursuit.”

What a cheek! Still, the bones remain in Bari to this day and it turned out to be a godsend as they have been well-looked after here rather than in Myra due to wars.

The Bascilla of St. Nicholas. Bari ItalyBut, the website: www. St Nicholas Center.org asks the question: “How did the kindly Christian saint, good Bishop Nicholas, become a roly-poly red-suited American symbol for merry holiday festivity and commercial activity? History tells the tale?”

Of course, widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas’ feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. Because the common people loved St. Nicholas so much, he survived on the European continent as people continued to place nuts, apples, and sweets in shoes left beside beds, on windowsills, or before the hearth.

You will find the long history of St. Nicholas on the link above but it appears when Europeans moved to the New World of America in the 18th Century the tale of St. Nicholas and the gifts spread like wildfire. It was told mainly through books and then gradually by the 19th century, the legend of Santa Claus, looking a bit like a tubby St. Nicholas with the beard, was born.

The St. Nicholas who comes to children in Europe, looking a lot like Santa

The St. Nicholas who comes to children in Europe, looking a lot like Santa

And so folks, by the time I write this post, a lot of those children who put out shoes last night, will be waking up rather early to see what St. Nicholas has left for them. I do hope all of them were NICE and not NAUGHTY … even if it was only for the last week, as tears could follow!

Regardless, today is a day to remember the diversity of our wonderful global world. It is a time to celebrate St. Nicholas in his own right, almost three weeks before Christmas Day.  It is true that in doing so, this simple gift-giving in early Advent has helped us preserve Christmas Day as a focus on the Christ Child instead of receiving gifts.

I just love this idea folks! However, whether the rest of the world is ready to actually embrace this change in the date that we give our gifts is another story and we are the poorer… I do believe … for it.

However, for us in the western world, I won’t be saying NO to gifts on December 25th, Christmas Day!

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