Today is the feast day of Saint Nicholas of Myra, one of the most popular saints in both Eastern and Western Christianity. As many American children do, I believed in “Santa Claus,” and at a very young age asked whether Santa was real, whether he actually came and delivered presents. The answer (I won’t spoil it for you if you don’t already know!) was painful, and I actually blocked out this memory and had to ask again the next year. I was comforted when I found out that the Bishop of Myra, who visited my church, St. Peter’s, every year, was the same person as Santa Claus.
I was sad to lose the Santa myth as a child. I loved the magical transformation of our house from Christmas Eve to Christmas morning. Often the anticipation, the joy of sneaking downstairs and seeing the beautiful gifts we were lucky to have, was more enjoyable than the gifts themselves. I loved the idea that overnight, something magical happens. Something changes.
Learning more about the legends of Saint Nicholas, I find the same type of magic present in his story. While he is best known for providing (in secret, of course) three bags of gold to a poor family for their daughters’ dowries, he also is said to have freed prisoners, restored children from death, and appeared to sailors in the midst of a storm. The magic of “Santa” is actually the magic and wonder that comes from being around someone very kind, holy, and good. Someone who loved God so much that he would help others in total darkness, in secret, asking nothing in return.
In Advent, we reflect on the imagery of darkness: specifically, the darkness that precedes the light coming into the world. Night time is not empty but a time full of anticipation, reflection, and active waiting. It is a magic time. And when morning comes, something is different. Something changes.
Post by Carrie Combs
Hagiographic information from Stars in a Dark World: Stories of the Saints and Holy Days of the Liturgy by Fr. John-Julian, OJN.