When I was a boy, in our family, Saint Nicholas Day was the cause for celebration. It was the earliest day that my parents would allow the "Christmas Season" to be recognized in our house. The tree went up in the living room and decorations were lavished about the house and we would exchange gifts. The gifts were small and of inconsequential value, usually Christmas ornaments with some sort of a Saint Nicholas theme, but they were ornately wrapped and given with great ceremony and festivity.
Eight years ago my father passed away on Saint Nicholas day. That was the saddest day of my life, so far, but there was some compensation in the fact that he died on that day. You see, my dad was as much the embodiment of Saint Nicholas as I can imagine in our day and age. He was a combination of the historical saint in his goodness and generosity and of Father Christmas in his delightful spirit and the fact that small children seemed oddly attracted to him. I remember being in a department store in my late teens, and my dad was waiting for me patiently. Once I got back to him, he had a couple of small children with him – they had gotten separated from their parents, and they naturally gravitated to my dad.
Since he passed on, I have taken Saint Nicholas as his patron, and I attend mass on his feast day. So today, Saturday, December 06, 2008, I attended early morning mass at Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California only to find that there was no mention of Saint Nicholas. I suspect and fear that this may be because his image has become such a cheesy icon of commerce and it has lost its true meaning of love and selfless generosity. We are surrounded by the garish images of Santa Claus, and have lost track of Saint Nicholas along the way.
Perhaps Dickens was correct, and we have to keep the spirit of the season with us in our hearts. I had hoped that there would be vestiges of it in the church as well, but it is not, so in our hearts it must be. I have a dear friend who reminds me of what I like the best about my fellow humans. She reminds me peripherally of my dad, though she would not understand that reference. In honor of St. Nick, my dad and of the Christmas season, I will give her an ornament today. She will find this odd and faintly out of place, but that is alright. It will be my symbolic passage of a tradition on to another generation.
O most good father Nicholas, pastor and teacher of all who in faith call upon thy protection an warm prayer, make haste to deliver Christ's flock from the wolves that attack it; and guard every Christian land, and keep it by thy holy prayers from worldly unrest, upheaval, the assault of enemies and civil strife; from famine, flood, fire, the axe and sudden mortality. And as thou didst take pity on the three men who were imprisoned, and didst deliver them from royal anger and death by the sword, so have mercy also on us, who are in the darkness of sins of mind, word and deed, and deliver us from the wrath of God and eternal punishment, so that, by thine intercession and help, and by His mercy and grace, Christ our God may grant us to lead a quiet life without sin in this age and deliver us in the next from standing at the left side, but rather grant us to be at His right hand with all the Saints.