December 6th is St. Nicholas Day. There is a lot of whining and complaining from Christians about how they can’t say, do, sing, what they used to during the Christmas season. I use the judgemental expression “whining and complaining” because those Christians living in places of real harassment and oppression would find our concerns laughable; using Happy Holidays in public spaces and on the public’s dime and not having Christmas carols sung at schools. THIS is harassment? As a Christian I have every right in this country to say Merry Christmas, to sing Christmas carols, to light up my lawn with the Christian story of Christmas. What I can’t do is use the public purse, the public stage, the public schools, to shove what I believe down others’ throats. That seems fair to me.
Frankly as our culture gets less and less interested in our sacred stories I think we are freed as Christians to take them back and provide the spiritual message that has been missing from our message for hundreds of years. What people call a traditional Christmas is actually quite recent. Most Protestant churches didn’t have Christmas Eve services till my parents’ lifetime. The affluence of churches looking like a department store is also more recent. The sermons, the liturgies, all designed to lull us into a soft, gentle place of family and friends. The actual story in Luke 2 is very different, a union that is not yet official, an unwed teenage mother, traveling far and wide to be registered. There is no room for them, making the sacred birth akin to a homeless experience.
There is also Herod. A blood thirty tyrant is attempting to murder little Jewish infant boys. Not much mention of that in our Christmas stories. The inclusion of the motley shepherds is an interesting touch by Luke. Matthew includes sage Magi, astrologers no less. That should make the traditionalists sputter! There is so much richness in this story, parts we can use to deepen our discipleship and witness, but instead we turn to the easy, comfortable and recent. And we call that “traditional”.
St. Nicholas Day celebrates a saint who came from wealth and anonymously supported the daughters of a poor family who assumed their daughters would need to make their way as prostitutes. The sex trade industry that recruits minors comes to mind. Nicholas saves the day, saves these girls, and does it without anyone knowing. Hardly the gift giving we see today, gifts predominantly given to those who already have plenty.
Maybe in a post-Christendom Christmas we can see Christian families leaning on the St. Nicholas tradition as opposed to the more recent affluent Coca Cola Santa Claus. Now that would be an inspirtation!