grave rolling st. nicholas

on the ship, i have been videoing readings of "the night before CHRISTmas," where people can read the book and i can burn it onto a dvd for them to send to their families.  it is truly one of my favorite CHRISTmas traditions.  the point of this post is not to get into the whole debate about "to santa, or not to santa," but rather to point out something that i noticed during the many times of hearing this story read.  are you ready?  here is a direct quote from the book, "he spoke not a word, but went straight to his work and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk, and laying a finger aside of his nose and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose."  did you see it?  i ask because after all the times i have read this poem, i never saw it until recently.  what did st. nicholas do?  or better yet, what didn't he do?  read it again.  "went straight to his work and filled all the stockings."  did you catch it?  that was all he did!  it didn't say he filled the room with presents, or decorated the CHRISTmas tree, or checked his list to make sure little johnny and susie got every gift that was on their list.  nope.  just filled some stockings.  nothing more, nothing less. 

i say this, because you have all heard me rant and rave about the materialistic idol worship service that CHRISTmas has become.  i hear pastors all the time preaching from the pulpit vilifying st. nicholas, or as he is commonly known in the common vernacular:  "santa claus" (coming from the dutch variation of st. nicholas sinterclaas.)  however, st. nicholas, or santa claus, is not the villain.  if you look at the historical account of st. nicholas, he lived in the late 200s and early 300s a.d.   he was the son of a wealthy couple who died, and left him a huge inheritance.  he was a very devout CHRISTian, and would use his wealth to help others, even after becoming a bishop in what is now modern day turkey.  the most famous story attributed to saint nicholas was the leaving of three bags of gold coins at the house of a poor man.  this money was to meant to be the dowry for his three young daughters, so that he could afford to have them married and them not be relegated to a life of prostitution.  the tradition was that he threw the bags through the window of the house for three consecutive nights, because he wanted the gift to remain anonymous so as to not embarrass the man.  on the third night, the man stood outside his house to try and find out the identity of the mysterious benefactor, so nicholas dropped the bag of coins down the chimney, which happened to land in one of the girls' stockings, which were hung by the fireplace to dry after washing them.  other accounts have him leaving coins or fruit in the shoes of children that were left outside the door to avoid tracking dirt from outside into the house.  this was traditionally held to have happened on december 6th, which is why much of the world celebrates st. nicholas day on decemeber 6th.  it wasn't until the poem, "a visit from st. nick," was published in 1822 in a newspaper in troy, ny, that they modern day figure of st. nicholas came into being.  the author, clement moore, who wished to remain anonymous at the time, wrote it as a fictional story to his children based upon the story of st. nicholas.  he himself was a clergyman and used historical facts to write the poem, such as st. nicholas having a white beard and dressing in red, as he was commonly shown in the orthodox icons.  he took some liberties in changing the date to coincide with CHRISTmas, but until then, st. nicholas was not associated with the holiday. 

so why the history lesson?  because i believe that if st. nicholas could see what his story has morphed into today, he would roll over in his grave.  this was a man who devoted his life to helping others, including sailors, which is why he is the patron saint of mariners.  he was a person who was not materialistic, but rather one who sought to help others with the gifts that God had given him.  that is a far cry from what santa claus and CHRISTmas represents in today's society.  but there is a debate technique called "setting up a straw man," in which a person sets up a decoy and attacks it, rather than attacking the actual problem.  this is the whole debate over santa claus.  you see, many people attack the "lie" of santa claus, and not what the lie represents.  many of the people who preach against santa claus have no problem with other make-believe games with their children.  how many dads have had sword-fights with their kids only to fall to their young knights' blows?  was the dad dead?  no!  he was pretending.  how many moms have sat at a tea party with their daughters and sipped pretend tea, telling them how good it was?  i know many santa claus deniers that have admitted to playing the tooth fairy game.  what is creepier?  a little fairy that loves children's teeth so much that they are willing to pay for them, or a man who gives gifts to children out of generosity?  but, like i said before, the purpose of this post is not to debate the game of santa claus.  because the game is not the problem.  yet we sit and whack away at the straw man that is santa claus, all the while ignoring the real problem:  greed and coveting.  why do we do this?  because it's easier to attack a fictional character as the culprit behind the problem that we create ourselves.  we are the culprits of greed. 

in the movie "fred claus," the statement is made that in the early 1900s, the average child asked for 3 presents, and today that list has grown to 27 gifts per child, and due to this increase, there was no way that santa claus could keep up with the demand and needed to step aside.  it's comical, but true.  there was a letter from the early 1900s to santa claus that was recently published, and the list was surprisingly simple and short.  the modern day phenomenon that is black friday, that everyone laments, was created by us.  it's easy to blame the merchants.  but yet, the real blame lies on us.  think about it, if the CHRISTmas lists of the early 1900s hadn't grown into the books that they have become, those children wouldn't have grown up expecting extravagant CHRISTmases, nor would they have passed that on to their children.  we are all born with the sin nature, meaning that we are all born wanting stuff.  and when that nature is fed, it grows.  that's why the Bible says to train up a child in the way he should go.  so when our kids begin becoming materialistic, we can either a) teach them the dangers of greed and want, or b) feed their greed and want and watch it grow to the point that we stab other parents trying to take the last ps4 at wal-mart on black friday because we have to get it for our kids or they won't have a good CHRISTmas.  so the problem is not an imaginary obese man in a red suit, it is the greed that has been unfairly associated with a man who devoted his life to giving to help others.

so what are we to do?  can we fight society?  no.  we can't stop the ebb and flow of the societal river.  but we can take a stand in our own lives and the lives of our children.  there is nothing wrong with giving gifts.  the gifts given to the CHRIST-child are a perfect example of this.  but when it comes to CHRISTmas and the traditions surrounding it, we can take that opportunity to teach our kids about contentment.  just because a kid gives you a list doesn't mean that you have to get them everything on it.  it doesn't mean that you have to go into debt to buy gifts that you can't afford.  it means that you take the time to teach your kids about what it means to be greedy, and the dangers of that mentality.  it means that you love your kids enough to tell them "no" to outrageous requests.  it means that you share in the magic of CHRISTmas with your children, by reading them fictional stories and decorating and engaging in family activities together such as making cookies and candies.  or better yet, how about our taking the story of st. nicholas, and teaching that to our kids, about giving to others less fortunate, whether that's packing a box for operation: CHRISTmas child, or buying a CHRISTmas meal for the family in your church that is struggling, or by pulling an angel off the angel tree at the mall and giving your kids the opportunity to share their CHRISTmas with an unknown child that is truly in need.  psychologists have even shown that a person who gives is happier than a person who gets.  in "a CHRISTmas carol," the ghost of CHRISTmas present shows ebeneezer scrooge the two children hidden underneath the bottom of his robe.  he says that their names are "ignorance and want," but to beware "ignorance" most, because on his forehead is written the word "doom."  our "want" has consumed us, but our "ignorance" of it will lead us to our doom.  a nation that is greedy will eventually consume itself.  judging by what we see every year in december, it doesn't seem we are far from it.     

1 comment:

Jason Jones said...

Great post, except that it's too dad-gum long! I am gonna pass it along. And just by the way too, St. Nicholas was at the Council of Nicea where he reportedly slugged Arius for being a heretic about the divinity of Christ...