What to make of St. Nick?

This is a guest post from my lovely wife, Anne Tinetti.

What are we to make of St Nicholas—aka Santa Claus?

Should we accept any presentation the sentimental, placating father-figure of department stores and cartoon? Should we deem him a symbol for all that is wrong with the celebration of the season when divorced from the Christ-child? Should we ignore the cartoon and reduce the myth to threadbare historical facts of the man, St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra?

We don’t have to do any of those things to be faithful Christians. But Grace goes so far as to invite us to make cookies to celebrate this generous saint!

The Feast of St. Nicholas falls on December 6th. According to traditions of many European nations, this saint appears in the midst of Advent fasting and preparation and secretly leaves small gifts in children’s shoes. However, this feast day need not only include families with children young enough to suspend disbelief.

As Gertrud Mueller Nelson reminds us in her book To Dance With God, a myth can be “true on the inside but not on the outside.” We don’t have to stick to the cold hard facts in order to take part in something real.

Other ways to celebrate this feast include giving to or doing a kind service for a near one in secret and inviting others to do the same, perhaps playfully leaving a calling card from St. Nicholas. And then, of course, there’s the cookies—Speculatius (which means “image”) in the shape of a gingerbread bishop about 7” tall. They are to be baked and delivered in secret, perhaps after others have gone to bed.

The more we grown-ups believe in a myth with meaning, the longer the tradition can last in our homes–and no one has to lie, because everyone is in on the fun. In this way, the Feast of St. Nicholas can be a small but piquant foretaste to the gift of Christmas in the middle of our Advent preparations, a fun ritual of kindness, and a magnification of the coming of our King.


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