Is it Wrong to Celebrate St. Nicholas During Advent?

The gifts we give on St. Nicholas’ feast are minor in comparison with the ultimate gift that Christ gave for all of us and the sweetness of Salvation that it brings.

(photo: Antonello da Messina, ‘Saint Nicholas’, c. 1475)

I love celebrating the feast of St. Nicholas. In fact, I love it so much that I’m sure I’ll be enjoying it well into my elder years.

And I don’t mind that it comes during Advent.

I know this season is meant to be spent in waiting and contemplation. I also know that should wait until December 25 to begin our Christmas revelry.

I do.

But I think that observing the feast of St. Nicholas can help us in our Advent waiting.

It’s because his story is so inspiring. Born to wealthy parents during the third century in the village of Patara (in modern-day Turkey), Nicholas was raised a Christian. He took Christian values seriously, gave all he owned and inherited to the poor and dedicated his life to serving God. Subsequently, he was made Bishop of Myra while a still a young man and gained a reputation for his generosity, love for children, and concern for sailors and ships. Because of that, he’s the patron saint of children and sailors.

As part of his ruthless persecution of Christians, Roman Emperor Diocletian exiled and imprisoned Nicholas. He suffered much for his faith but never abandoned it. After his release, he attended the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) and died on December 6, 343 AD. His followers buried him in his cathedral church where a spectacular miracle took place. A liquid substance, called manna, formed in his grave and is said to have healing powers. That miracle helped spread devotion to the saint.

The custom of filling children’s shoes or stockings with treats and trinkets on the eve of December 6 comes from a legend about St. Nicholas.

The legend goes that, while Bishop of Myra, Nicholas heard about a very poor man with three daughters. In those days, it was customary to offer a dowry to prospective husbands, and the larger the dowry, the better the husband. But this man had no dowry at all for his daughters and so they were destined to be sold into slavery. To save them from this fate, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the window in the dark of night on three separate occasions – one for each daughter. Each time, the gold landed in a shoe that had been set before the fireplace to dry.

There are countless such stories about St. Nicholas. Whether truth or fable, the main point is his goodness and generosity.

Imitating St. Nicholas’ holy traits is exactly the right thing to do during Advent, in my opinion.

I remember when our oldest son was still a boy. We were hanging stockings in anticipation of St. Nicholas’ feast day when he asked, “Hey, Mom? Doesn’t celebrating St. Nicholas kinda mess up the whole Advent thing?”

True, celebrating St. Nicholas is like having a piece of Christmas before it’s here.

On the other hand, commemorating the saint’s suffering and sacrificing for his faith and his benevolence and advocacy for the poor, sick, and otherwise helpless fits right in. Filling stockings during Advent is not so much an inbreak of Christmas as it is a reminder of how we, too, are called to live our lives.

The gifts we give on St. Nicholas’ feast are minor in comparison with the ultimate gift that Christ gave for all of us and the sweetness of Salvation that it brings.