Monday, December 6, 2010

St. Nicholas Day

I remember being told the legend of St. Nicholas when I was a child - about how he tossed bags of money through the window to the daughters of a poor man so that these girls could get married. It was explained that in those days girls had no hope of getting married unless their father could provide a dowry of money or valuable items. This story was way over my head at the time. Walt Disney's Cinderella was at the drive-in theater, and my family and I had been to see it. The Prince was in love with Cinderella, and he didn't seem to care one little bit that Cinderella was poor. I decided the young men in St. Nicholas' day must have been more greedy than romantic.

What wasn't explained to me as a child was that unmarried girls in St. Nicholas' era often ended up being sold as slaves, living a life of prostitution. Of course, I'm just as glad that wasn't explained to me because I was an innocent child of the 1950's and wouldn't have had a clue what it all meant. And if I had somehow figured it out, it certainly would have put a crimp in my romantic Cinderella ideas.

However, the complete explanation does lead to a greater appreciation of St. Nicholas. Because he was willing to share his wealth, these poor girls had a much brighter future.  According to legend, St. Nicholas was very generous with his wealth and preferred to give anonymously.

I can't help contrasting St. Nicholas' method of practicing charity with our methods today. Anonymous giving seems to be a relic of the past. But wait - how can I possibly know that? Anonymous givers are just that - anonymous - so of course, they wouldn't let me or anybody else know what they're giving. OK, for all I know there are a lot of anonymous givers out there. But that doesn't change the fact that there are a lot of givers who are far from anonymous.

There are wealthy celebrities who give a lot and make sure everybody knows they're giving a lot. They often create foundations and put their own name on it - something like The Mickey Mouse Foundation for Underprivileged Mice. I suppose some might say that when celebrities publicize their giving, they encourage other people to give. There may be some truth to that; but I think it's just as possible that the publicized giving that celebrities do might make a lot of ordinary people feel like they're off the hook. Their attitude might be - if there are so many rich people giving so much, surely nothing is expected of me.

Another thing - I think it's possible that publicizing charity might encourage some people to take advantage of an opportunity to get a handout rather than taking advantage of an opportunity to get a job.

Charity is a good thing.  It really is more blessed to give than to receive.  But I think how we give is important.  Apparently St. Nicholas thought so.  That's why he mounted his horse at night, rode by the poor girls' house and tossed the money bags through the window instead of knocking on the front door and presenting the bags in person.   He took the teaching of Jesus to heart.  What did Jesus say about giving?

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.    Matthew 6:2-4

If you want to know more about St. Nicholas Day and how it's celebrated all over the world, check out this interesting website - St. Nicholas Center


margie said...

This is a good heads up about giving and being QUIET about it. I am inspired to be "invisible"!

Thanks for a great post! Got me pondering and praying!


Judith B. Landry said...

Hi, Margie - thanks for your comment. I'm always amazed at how I learn things just by writing my thoughts. The obvious dawned on me as I was writing this post - the obvious fact that nobody can know how much anonymous giving is going on because its' - well, it's anonymous!