The patron saint of children and defender of the faith
On this day of Advent we think more directly of Christmas, for a brief interruption, when we celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children and defender of the faith.
In fact, some parents choose this day to start their children’s focus on Advent with stockings that are hung for little presents like slippers and new pajamas while the cookies and milk are put out to honor St. Nicholas and his legendary and kindly act to those young girls centuries ago*.
The Santa Claus who commmits a sort of saintly burglary at this time of the year is, of course, the St. Nichilas who was the patron saint of children. And it is particularly appropriate to remember that the Saint gained his title by a miracle of resurrection….St. Nicholas, according to the legend, found two children literally gone to pot (like modern society) and miraculously raised them unconsumed.G.K. Chesterton, The New Witness, Dec. 11, 1913
“As a child I was faced with a phenomenon requiring explanation. I hung up at the end of my bed an empty stocking, which in the morning became a full stocking. I had done nothing to produce the things that filled it. I had not worked for them, or made them or helped to make them. I had not even been good–far from it. And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still.”– G. K. Chesterton, On Santa Claus, Review for the New York Times
St. Nicholas not only gained a reputation for giving gifts to children (and saving them from butchery in another legend), he also became known for his literal defense of the faith while Bishop of Myra, defending the trinity against the rising heresy of Arianism and being one of the signers of the Nicene Creed. Indeed, legend has it that Nicholas delivered a haymaker to a heretic over the point of the Holy Trinity!
Whatever we know about St. Nicholas, what he has been most associated with in the minds of children of all ages, is the giving of presents, representing the greatest giver of gifts, God, and his greatest gift to the world, that of His Son, Christ Jesus! A gift none of us deserved but which we so desperately needed and earnestly hoped for – even when we didn’t understand that we did need Him. This was the point on which Chesterton, a life long believer in Santa Claus, sought to help his reader understand.
“And the explanation was that a certain being whom people called Santa Claus was benevolently disposed toward me. . . . What we believed was that a certain benevolent agency did give us those toys for nothing. And, as I say, I believe it still. I have merely extended the idea. Then I only wondered who put the toys in the stocking; now I wonder who put the stocking by the bed, and the bed in the room, and the room in the house, and the house on the planet, and the great planet in the void. Once I only thanked Santa Claus for a few dollars and crackers. Now, I thank him for stars and street faces, and wine and the great sea. Once I thought it delightful and astonishing to find a present so big that it only went halfway into the stocking. Now I am delighted and astonished every morning to find a present so big that it takes two stockings to hold it, and then leaves a great deal outside; it is the large and preposterous present of myself, as to the origin of which I can offer no suggestion except that Santa Claus gave it to me in a fit of peculiarly fantastic goodwill.” – G. K. Chesterton, from The Other Stocking, Black and White, 1903
* Some parents choose the Feast of St Nicholas to also read Dicken’s A Christmas Carol to the family together.