Legend grown out of history provides a gateway
Much of the talk about St. Nicholas, the Rev. Heath Howe said, serves as a way to correct the legend that has grown so popular. Born to wealthy parents who died when he was young, St. Nicholas of Myra gave his inheritance to the needy. After his death, the Catholic Church named him patron saint of children. Many families – Catholic and Protestant – celebrate his feast day Dec. 6 (Dec. 19 on the Julian calendar).
Popular culture placed St. Nicholas at the North Pole, Howe said. In 1822, poet Clement Clarke Moore gave him a sleigh, eight tiny reindeer and a belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly. Rudolph, the ninth reindeer, appeared later.
The 1934 song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” added the “naughty” and “nice” distinctions. Even Chicago Cardinal Francis George, who grew up with coal in his basement, minded his p’s and q’s for fear a lump would appear in his stocking.
George and others believe that the legend of St. Nicholas or Santa Claus can serve as a gateway to understanding the spirit of generosity during the holiday season.
The Rev. Barry Moriarty, interim pastor at St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church, said Santa makes an appearance at the Lincoln Park parish every year for pancakes, eggs and photographs after a Mass.
“Families look forward to bringing the children to department stores or downtown, but having him right there at the parish is a nice kind of twist,” he said. “Our advice to them is to continue being generous and good this time of year. It’s the same advice that Santa gives to kids as well. We fold the two together.”
Indeed, Susan DeLay, a spokeswoman for South Barrington’s Willow Creek, compares the evangelical megachurch’s strategy to a popular illustration of Jolly Old St. Nick kneeling before a manger.
“That probably says as much about what we believe as anything,” she said. “Every knee shall bow to Jesus – even Santa