November 29, 2007

I may be going out on a limb here, but I think most readers have probably heard of this saint. Ever since he signed that endorsement contract for Coca-Cola, he and his army of pygmy toymakers and genetically modified reindeer have maintained a high profile”€”sometimes to the point of distracting us from… you know… that kid in the manger.

Of course, the real story of St. Nicholas of Myra involves a few, carefully chosen gifts, and only rare visits to the North Pole. He really didn”€™t have the time”€”since he spent long sentences in prison for the faith, served as bishop of a diocese in Asia Minor, and helped lead the Council of Nicaea, which re-affirmed the fact that Jesus was God as well as man.

But the association of Nicholas with gift-giving isn”€™t entirely arbitrary. Some of the earliest accounts of his life include the charming suggestion that he would throw money through the windows of impoverished girls so their fathers could afford dowries and they could be married”€”instead of lapsing into lives of prostitution. It’s said that in one household he tossed three bags of gold”€”one for each endangered daughter. This inspired pawnbrokers ever after to hang three golden balls outside their windows. So the next time you swing by a pawn shop to pick up, say, an engagement ring or a .38, remember to say a little prayer to St. Nicholas for success in marriage or marksmanship.

Another legend of St. Nicholas tells that three young boys had been killed by a local maniac in Myra, and their bodies preserved in a pickle barrel. (I”€™m surprised this scene hasn”€™t yet appeared in a movie with Nicholas Cage.) The bishop opened the barrel, discovered the corpses, and promptly raised them from the dead”€”winning acclaim ever after as the patron saint of children, pickles, and barrels.

CELEBRATE: It’s traditional in Catholic Europe to celebrate St. Nicholas not on Christmas, but on his feast day, Dec. 6 (go figure!). Parents remind children the night before to leave their shoes outside the door, for St. Nicholas to fill with candy during the night. It’s probably best not to stuff your kids into a barrel half-full of brine, then return in a Santa Claus costume announcing that St. Nicholas has raised them from the dead. Just trust me on this one.

From The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living.


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