Three sleeps before Santa Claus comes.
Today we tend to focus as much on Santa as we do on the religious aspects of Christmas, but the tradition of helping others is still part of our celebrations.
That tradition is centuries old, and began with Nicholas, a saint revered by Western and Eastern rite Catholics and Orthodox.
Born in Patara, Asia Minor, in 270 to a wealthy family, Nicholas was orphaned at an early age. At 30 he became Bishop of Myra, a Turkish town.
He became legendary for his compassion for children and the disadvantaged and for using his inherited wealth to provide aid anonymously to those in need.
He was a defiant defender of church doctrine. During the Great Persecution in 303, when priests had to renounce Christianity or face execution, he spent seven years in prison for his faith. He is patron saint for many types of people, from orphans to sailors to prisoners.
The Christmas connection started in the middle ages when some French nuns took anonymous gifts during the night of Dec. 5 ( St. Nicholas Eve) to needy families and their children. The families were told St. Nicholas left the goodies.
During the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, saints fell out of favour, and the gift-giving credit shifted to the Baby Jesus, Dec. 24 replaced Dec 5.
The Christ Child often had a helper to distribute the presents.
Families in the Netherlands refused to part with St Nicholas. They called him Sinterklaas and brought him with them when they immigrated to the American colonies in the 17th century.
Later poets and writers came up with the image of today’s Santa ( eg T’was the Night Before Xmas).
He doesn’t look like a saint, but Santa does the gifting job nicely.
Merry Christmas/Happy Holiday to all.