Tuesday, December 06, 2005

St. Nicholas Night

Tonight was St. Nicholas night in Alcester. The local Anglican church is named after St. Nicholas, and a new custom has arisen whereby a young boy is escorted down the High Street dressed as the Saint. There is much mirth... the stores are open late, soup kitchens and a plethora of fast foods are to be found in abundance. Santa gives out goodies to the kids in his grotto. Local bands and school orchestras play music... Morris Men dance in the street... ordinary folk dance in the street!

So who was St. Nicholas? We know him as Santa Claus (it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see how the name translates). You may have caught a programme on TV last year that said a lot about him. He was a bishop... a leader of the early Church who was based in Myra. He was persecuted for his beliefs by the Emperor Diocletian... and locked up in jail (he was... lucky). He eventually escaped and lived to see the Church become legalised. The reason we most associate him with giving gifts and being kind to children, is because of two stories. Nicholas was born to wealthy parents... but as a Christian he decided to use his wealth to help the poor and needy. We are told that he heard of a pauper whose three daughters were engaged to be married... but he couldn't afford the dowry payment to the grooms. Nicholas sneaked round the house at night and lobbed three bags of gold through the window. Another story tells of how he prophetically dreamed of an innkeeper murdering three children. Nicholas found the boys and prayed over them... returning them to life in the name of Jesus.

When I was born I had no name for several days. I am eternally grateful to St. Nicholas because if it hadn't been for the church giving me my name.... I probably would have been called Julian... and I would have been emotionally scarred for life (that name comes in for a lot of stick in these parts).

St. Nicholas Day is 6th December. He is supposed to be patron saint of the following:

against imprisonment; against robberies; against robbers; apothecaries; Apulia, Italy; bakers; Bari, Italy; barrel makers; boatmen; boot blacks; boys; brewers; brides; captives; children; coopers; dock workers; druggists; Duronia, Italy; fishermen; Fossalto, Italy; Greece; Greek Catholic Church in America; Greek Catholic Unionl grooms; judges; lawsuits lost unjustly; Limerick, Ireland; longshoremen; Lorraine; maidens; mariners; merchants; murderers; Naples, Italy; newlyweds; old maids; parish clerks; paupers; pawnbrokers; perfumeries; perfumers; pharmacists; pilgrims; poor people; Portsmouth (English City); prisoners; Russia; sailors; Sassari, Italy; scholars; schoolchildren; shoe shiners; Sicily; spinsters; students; thieves; travellers; University of Paris; unmarried girls; watermen.

If you want to know more about the man... you can read up on him here.

Theologically I don't believe in venerating specific "Saints". All Christians are saints. However, I'm no killjoy and tonight was a lot of fun... it's just important to recognise that in Christ, all are equal.

Hey... I just had a thought. My name is Nicholas... I'm a christian... therefore I'm a saint. I'd better stay off the mince pies because there's a good chance I'll be the next Santa!

I certainly wouldn't mind being the patron saint of unmarried girls!

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