Sunday December 2nd began the season of Advent which will continue for a total of four weeks until Christmas Eve. Advent; a word that comes from the Latin, ‘adventus’ meaning ‘to come’; is not only the preparation for Christmas, but also marks the beginning of the Catholic liturgical year.
It’s only fitting that a few Saints associated with Christmas find feast days tucked into this season. One Saint whose day is often overlooked is St. Nicholas, who being very popular in our pop culture as the Santa Clause of elves and flying reindeer, that we associate with Christmas; was actually a real live Bishop in the fourth century, whose feast day is on the 6th of December.
The Bishop of Myra, a city in what today is Turkey, Nicholas was known for his generosity, gift giving, and concern for sailors and ships. While serving as Bishop, Nicholas suffered persecution, exile, and imprisonment under Roman persecution. He was also one of the attendees at the council of Nicaea in 325, the first ecumenical council held by the church, which among other things settled disputes about Christology and formed part of the Nicene Creed. St. Nicholas died Dec 6th, 343 AD. and is known as the patron saint of children, thieves, and sailors.
It’s strange to think of St. Nicholas; Santa Clause, as a patron of anything besides children. I guess the patron of thieves makes a little sense, climbing down chimneys and all, but I think the one that surprised me was his association with sailors and ships.
When I first came across the Icon above I thought it was a strange variation of the story about Jesus and the Apostles at sea, and would never have suspected that it was “Santa Claus”. But the truth is that St. Nicholas has several stories and legends surrounding his life, one of which goes like this:
While returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Nicholas travelled by sea. A storm arose and threatened the ship he was on, so he calmly prayed and the storm ceased. The sailors were saved from disaster, and so St. Nicholas as a patron of sailors and voyagers found it’s beginning.