This past week we celebrated St. Nicholas Day, a day much loved by children and adults alike. The tradition, one that started in northern Europe and has spread around the world, is that children place their little shoes out in their home the night before St. Nick’s and then awaken to find them filled with chocolate coins or other treats in the morning. It is from this tradition that our modern tradition of Christmas stockings developed.
Much of what makes the traditions associated with St. Nicholas Day so meaningful is that they are, in fact, based on a real person. Nicholas was a fourth-century Christian saint and also the Greek Bishop of Myra (now in modern day Turkey). Many stories and legends are told of us life, but the one that is probably most well known is his habit of giving secret gifts to others in need. It is his habit of secret gift giving that forms the basis for our modern day celebration of St. Nickolas Day and of Santa Claus.
The daily readings in our Living Compass Advent book for this year focus on practicing patience, and so I have been spending time each day reflecting on how I can practice more patience in my life, both with others and with myself. As I was going through the daily readings this week, I found myself thinking of St. Nicholas and his practice of secret gift giving in a new way. I starting thinking that while the giving of chocolate coins and other material gifts this time of year can be a joyous experience, perhaps there are other wonderful gifts we give to one another as well. Gifts that are not material, but spiritual. A gift like patience, for example.
So a few days ago I thought of a few friends and family members with whom I sometimes feel impatient. They may not sense my impatience, but I know it is there, and left unchecked it is something that could, over time, compromise our relationship. I thought at length about ways I could secretly give them the gift of my being more patient with them. I have now, in fact, challenged myself to do so the last few days and it is amazing how my feelings and attitude have changed already. I have also discovered that one of the people who also benefits from my offering this gift of patience is myself.
Gift giving is on many of our minds this time of year. However much effort you choose to spend on finding the right material gifts for others, I invite you to also spend an equal amount of effort focusing on the spiritual gifts you can give to others this year. Perhaps there is a friend, family member, neighbor, or colleague to whom you would like to offer the gift of patience, or some other spiritual gift, right now.
There are many ways to be generous with one another, many kinds of gifts we can share. Some require money, some require a change of heart and a change of attitude. Whatever gifts we choose to give this season, whether chocolate coins or the gift of patience, may we all draw inspiration from the generosity of a humble, secret gift-giving man named Nicholas.