December 6 – is the Feast and Commemoration of Saint (Santa) Nicholas. The Orthodox Christian bishop whose entire life was a simple sign of goodness, love and benevolence to the poor or anyone who was in need. It amazes me, and yet it does not amaze me, how the real story of this real man has been somehow hijacked over the centuries turning him and his legacy into a commercial financial pop icon/business called “Claus” and black Friday ‘holidays’. The main message of this new secular feast is “What do YOU want little boy… or girl… or man or woman…?” How far we have fallen. St. Nicholas is the story of a man who gave to others who were too poor to have anything. We on the other hand go into debt to give ourselves things we cannot afford and do not need. Christmas is not about buying ourselves, or others gifts. It is about taking from our abundance and providing something for those who have little or nothing at all. What a radical concept. What a complete departure from what we know today as ‘black Friday’.
Here is a nice and concise commentary on the life and message of Nicholas. One that we can all seek to emulate.
Sad as it is to see St. Nicholas transformed into the red-suited Santa Claus of the secular winter “holidays,” it is easy to understand why the holy bishop has become so closely connected with the festival of Christ’s birth. The stories about the saint, fabricated and embroidered in Christian imagination over the ages, in various times and places, all tell of the simple faith and love of the man known only for his goodness and love.
The extraordinary thing about the image of St. Nicholas in the Church is that he is not known for anything extraordinary. He was not a theologian and never wrote a word, yet he is famous in the memory of believers as a zealot for Orthodoxy, allegedly accosting the heretic Arius at the first ecumenical council in Nicaea for denying the divinity of God’s Son. He was not an ascetic and did no outstanding feats of fasting and vigils, yet he is praised for his possession of the “fruit of the Holy Spirit… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23). He was not a mystic in our present meaning of the term but he lived daily with the Lord and was godly in all his words and deeds. He was not a prophet in the technical sense, yet he proclaimed the Word of God, exposed the sins of the wicked, defended the rights of the oppressed and afflicted, and battled against every form of injustice with supernatural compassion and mercy. In a word, he was a good pastor, father, and bishop to his flock, known especially for his love and care for the poor. Most simply put, he was a divinely good person.
Like God and like Jesus, St. Nicholas was genuinely good. Real goodness is possible. For, to quote the Lord again, “with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). A human being, even a rich human being who believes in God, can be genuinely good with God’s own goodness. “For truly I say to you, says the Lord, “if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed… nothing will be impossible to you” (Mt 17:20-21).
The Messiah has come so that human beings can live lives which are, strictly speaking, humanly impossible. He has come so that people can really be good. One of the greatest and most beloved examples among believers that this is true is the holy bishop of Myra about whom almost nothing else is known, or needs to be known, except that he was good. For this reason alone he remains, even in his secularized form, the very spirit of Christmas. – Father Thomas Hopko