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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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Friday of the first week of Advent

Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.

Today all Christian denominations who venerate saints honor St. Nicholas the Wonderworker. He was born in 270 in modern day Turkey to Greek parents in Myra, which was a part of the Roman Empire. He died 73 years later on December 6, 343.

St. Nicholas’ reputation evolved over the centuries, which was a common occurrence for our early Christian saints. The stories that repeat themselves all have to do with his generosity. Along with St. Nicholas’ white beard and canonical clothing, it is easy to imagine why his life gave rise to the traditional model of St. Nick, or Santa Claus.

The earliest accounts of his life were written hundreds of years after his death.  St. Nicholas is said to have saved three women from prostitution because their father could not afford to supply their dowry. In a famous icon,  St. Nicholas is seen reaching into an upstairs window of a home with a bag of gold in his hand. Three young women are downstairs in the home attending to their sick father. The story says that St. Nicholas returned on three successive nights and the bags of gold that he left behind saved the three daughters from being turned out onto the streets.

The story of  St. Nicholas spread through Europe and across the Atlantic with the Dutch to New Amsterdam, now modern-day New York. Martin Luther, who wanted Christianity to move away from venerating saints, shifted the tradition of exchanging gifts from December 6th to Christmas.  Luther’s hope was that gift giving would be associated with Christ rather than Nicholas. He was only partially successful, as many stories of St. Nicholas’ generosity naturally grew into the story of Santa Claus.

The folklore of St. Nicholas was further advanced by Clement Clarke Moore with his famous poem, which begins, “Twas the night before Christmas . . .,” and by Francis Church, the editor of The New York Sun, who in 1897 responded to a letter by 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, asking if Santa Claus was real. I’ll conclude with a few lines from his answer.

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist . . . they give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

“No Santa Claus! Thank God! He lives, and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Advent Blessings,
Father Kevin MacDonald, C.Ss.R.