|Saint Nicholas, 1294, Russian Icon , Novgrorod.|
In the Catholic Church, having patron saints is like having "friends in high places"; they want you to model your life on the life of Christ, just as they did. As we choose our friends based on similar interests and backgrounds, so we come to find patron saints by what they went through and were called to do with their talents and gifts; a patron saint is someone with whom you can identify your life's journey in becoming Christ-like. Likewise, because of the extraordinary graces given to certain people while on earth and God's pleasure to use them in numerous situations, certain people of exemplary grace deemed Saints by the Church offer lessons in following Christ in more ways than one, and Saint Nicholas is certainly that man of exemplary quality and heroic virtue.
|Nicholas Delivering the Dowry, Fabriano, 1425, Pinacoteca Vaticana.|
The three virgins symbolize the soul in its progression to holiness and fulfillment of its destiny. The father of the three girls signifies the world and how the world cannot provide for what it is that we need in order to follow Christ (we are born in the world, as the father is the biological father of the three girls, but he can't provide for them). The marriage they are to seek is the marriage with the Lamb, Christ himself, but none of us have the dowry (sinlessness and holiness) necessary to make that marriage. The falling of night is the "dark night of the soul" through which we must all pass, the troubles and cares, the concerns and burdens of daily life that tries to separate us from God. The window (through which Nicholas throws the bags of gold) is the window of self-reflection: meditation and prayer.
|St Nicholas in Bulgaria.|
|Illustration, 1881 by Thomas Nast.|
Why, for example, does Santa have a beard? Could you imagine a beardless Santa?
The beard is a symbol of wisdom, and for Santa to have a beard is imperative because we have love in direct proportion to our wisdom: those who are wise, are wise because they know what true love is, they don't settle for weak or false forms/expressions of love; and those who truly love love truly because through their life's experiences and trials, they have learned the great value of love and why it is so precious, and why it is so powerful. When a child tugs on Santa's beard, to see if it is real or not, that is a child's way of discerning if Santa is real, if Santa's love for them is real, by knowing if the sign of wisdom, the beard, is real.
|1686, after Christmas became legal again in England.|
The red suit is the color of love, because to give your life for another is the greatest act of love there is. Usually, the animal fur symbolizes the passions and the appetites, but because it is white, that means that he has tamed them, he rules them, they do not rule him. The white fur on his wrists means that his strength comes from controlling his appetites (the arms symbolize strength). The white fur cuffed on his ankles means that his will is not dominated by his passions (the feet signify the will) and that's why he wears the black boots: his own will is dead so that he can do the Will of the One who sends him. The black belt refers to his chastity (even in a state of marriage). Santa wears a red cap because the head is that which governs us, and since it is red, he is governed by love.
|One of Norman Rockwell's many Santa illustrations.|
Cartoonist Thomas Nast presented his figure of Santa Claus in an 1863 edition of Harper's Weekly; the American Civil War was in its second year of bloodshed and turmoil, which explains why a figure of Santa and the bounty that was once enjoyed by all might be enjoyed by all again, in the near future. In the Book of Job, he laments his poor fortune now, but reminds himself that God favored him once, and may still do so again; Santa's plumpness, likewise, reminds us in the "leaner" years of the Lord's goodness in the past, and to hope for it again in the future. Here is a snippet of a diary entry, dated December 24, 1864, from Dolly Lunt Burge, a mother living in Georgia during the Civil War, just after General Sherman's March to the Sea and blackened earth policy ruined the lives of all living in the state:
|Thomas Nast's 1863 Harper's Illustration.|
|Netherlands, Sinterklaus, 2007.|
|The Feast of St. Nicholas, 1665-8, Jan Steen, Amsterdam.|
Amen and Merry Christmas!