I was a lucky child: not only did Father Christmas fill my stocking on Christmas Eve but St Nicholas filled my clean shoes on December 5th with marzipan and chocolate coins.
St Nicholas was a fourth century bishop in Myra (now in Turkey) known for his secret giving, It is said that he once saved three girls from prostitution by dropping a sack filled with gold coins through an open window. He became the patron saint of children and to this day children all over Europe put out their shoes for St Nicholas on 5th December. In the English speaking world St Nicholas has morphed into Father Christmas.
The first week of Advent is therefore forever linked in my head with the coming of St Nicholas.
Some may have a problem with this. After all, they might say, Advent should not be associated with the coming of St Nicholas but the anticipation of the coming of Christ, first as a baby and then at the second coming, However, I see St Nicholas pointing to the second coming of Christ – not the coming of Christ in triumph ‘ on clouds descending ‘ but the coming of Christ in the person in need, ‘ when did we see you Lord ? ’ asked those judged in Matthews gospel . ‘ I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink.. ( Matthew 25.34.)
St Nicholas saw Christ in the stranger, the outcast and the needy. He gave hope to those in despair as do the English classes at St Chrysostoms. for trafficked men. It seems appropriate that St Nicholas’ feast day falls in the first week of Advent , and that the shoes put out for him, are a symbol not only of generous secret giving but also of hope, traditionally a theme for the first week of Advent.
A thought. Who receives our Christmas gifts?