…one of the best examples I can think of a follower of Jesus who really got the picture of commitment in relationship with others. He happened to be a humble fellow born in the year 275 A.D. in the eastern side of the Roman Empire on the Mediterranean sea coast. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic of disease while he was still young. Radically obeying Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” he used his whole inheritance the rest of his life to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God, and because of his radical commitment to Christ was made Bishop of the church in his town of Myra while still a young man. He became known throughout his homeland for his humility, his generosity to those in need, his love for children, his defense of justice, and his caring for seafarers and prisoners. One of the oldest recorded episodes from the life of this man is his saving three condemned innocents in Andriaki from the Roman Emperor’s executioner. He is also known for intervening on the behalf of the unjustly jailed.
Another story of this man’s life tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance that a young woman would find a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home-providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry.
He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. If you cared to look him up today, you might find him known by the name Saint Nicholas.
With such a popularity, his legends inevitably became intertwined with others. In Germanic countries, the stories of Nicholas became interwoven with the local pagan belief in a god named Woden, who rode his (black) horse across the sky as the leader of the Wild Hunt. As the story evolved, it involved Nicholas riding a white horse instead of Woden on his black, then the story morphed into more than one horse, with the horses managing to pull along a sleigh behind them. Somewhere along the line, probably tied to the original gold-giving story, people began giving presents in his name on his feast day.
As the legend moved westward and northward into the Netherlands, Saint Nicholas’ eve became the primary occasion for gift-giving. In the days leading up to December 5 (starting when Saint Nicholas has arrived in The Netherlands by steamboat), young children put their shoes in front of the chimneys and sing special ‘Sinterklaas-songs’. Often the shoe is filled with a carrot or some hay for the horse of St. Nicholas (called Amerigo). On the next morning they will find a small present in their shoe, ranging from a bag of chocolate coins to a bag of marbles or some other small toy.
On the evening of December 5th, Sinterklaas brings presents to every child that has been good in the past year (in practice to all children). This is often done by placing a sack with presents outside the house or living room, after which a neighbour or parent bangs the door or window, pretending to be Sinterklaas’ assistant. In pictures, Sinterklaas wears a red bishop’s tunic and rides a white horse over the rooftops
In modern-day Germany, Nikolaus is usually celebrated on a small scale. Many children put a boot, called Nikolaus-Stiefel, outside the front door on the night of December 5 to December 6. St. Nicholas fills the boot with gifts, and at the same time checks up on the children to see if they were good. If they were not, they will have a tree branch in their boots instead. Sometimes a disguised Nikolaus also visits the children at school or in their homes and asks them if they “have been good” (sometimes ostensibly checking a book for their record), handing out presents on a per-behaviour basis.
I wonder how this story evolved when it came to the United States as Europeans migrated? Sinterklaas sounds an awful lot like….waiiiiiit a minute! Is it possible that Captain Consumerism (aka Santa Claus) himself is in fact an devolutionary twisting of an amazing example of a heroic man? Of course that’s not possible, capitalism isn’t capable of such an atrocity…it’s the pinnacle of civilization.