Editorial

Comb Honey & our favorite Nicholas

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Nicholas was born in the coastal town of Patara in southern Anatolia (Turkey). His birthday was probably in or near the year 275. His parents were Greek and Greece was in control of the Anatolian peninsula at that time. His parents were wealthy and held land and cargo ships. His mother had only one child and Nicholas grew up wealthy. His parents were generous and good to all others. They instilled in Nicholas a sense of morality and unselfishness. His parents gave much to poor people in their community. Nicholas was taught that with wealth comes the responsibility to help others. His family was Christian. His uncle was a Bishop for the region where he was born and raised. Nicholas was a good student. He became proficient in mathematics and literature. In addition to property, his family owned ships and were involved in transport and trading around the Aegean Sea and probably elsewhere in the Mediterranean. He travelled by ship throughout his life.

When Nicholas was 12 years of age his parents both died in an epidemic. Nicholas inherited a vast fortune but was devastated by the loss of his beloved parents. His Uncle the Bishop took Nicholas under his care and managed his affairs until Nicholas was old enough to manage for himself. Nicholas followed in his uncles footsteps and became a minister in the church. Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Nicholas and many other Christians were persecuted and imprisoned for a time. The prisons were filled with Christians and there was no place for criminals such as murderers and thieves. People became alarmed and the emperor changed policy. After Nicholas was released, he became renowned for his generosity and was named Bishop of Myra. Partly because of his education but more because of his generosity he was named Bishop at a young age.

Through the centuries, news of his deeds has been kept in stories and legends around the world. These accounts explain his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need. He was not from a northern climate and did not travel by sleigh but he was a sailor. He travelled by boat. The gifts that he distributed to those in need throughout his life until his official death in December of 343 were carried in large quantities by ship. Sailors keep Nicholas in high regard to this day. Few sailors in ancient times knew how to swim well. Storms that overturned ships resulted in the deaths of many sailors. However, Nicholas lived a long life. He travelled extensively around the eastern Mediterranean; throughout Europe, Asia Minor and even North Africa. He never was in one shipwreck despite travelling thousands upon thousands of miles by sea. He was always welcome aboard any ship because his travels without mishap were considered a miracle by sailors of that day.

He is most famous for giving presents to children, especially on Christmas Eve. It is Saint Nicholas that started the tradition of Christmas Gifts. It is rumored that his Birthday was also in December. He would lavish orphanages with gifts for all the Children wherever he went each Christmas. Not only did he give toys, but clothes, and expensive food to the poorest of children. The most expensive food at the time was honey. It was always in the comb in those days. The honey was not only delicious to eat but also soothed the wounds of poor children. He was known for giving them money as well, usually in the form of gold. The value of honey and gold were about the same in those days. The value of gold was about the same as it is today. Nicholas distributed his wealth to poor Children everywhere he went throughout his life. He never let them know who provided the gifts. He called it giving in secret. When poor children received gifts from Saint Nicholas, wealthy children became jealous so parents gave them gifts from Saint Nicholas on Christmas as well. This tradition lives on in all Christian societies throughout the world

In those days young unmarried women of poor families were likely to be hired out as servants for the rich and consequently often abused. The only way a young woman could get a husband was if she had something of value that is a dowry. Nicholas often visited their homes late in the evening. A stocking would be left behind with a ball of gold in it. The girls visited by Saint Nicholas married well and were forever grateful. Have you ever wondered why we hang stockings from the mantle and place round gold ornaments on a Christmas tree? Why we leave gifts for children. Only one gift has somewhat been lost over time. Comb honey was given by Saint Nicholas because it not only provided something sweet to eat for Christmas, it could also heal wounds that might otherwise get infected and take the life of someone in the family. The gold balls have led to another tradition of giving oranges on Christmas. Saint Nicholas will forever be remembered by sailors, young ladies in waiting and children. He lives in the minds and hearts of sailors, young girls in waiting and children everywhere to this very day.

Nicholas was said to have rescued kidnapped children. These children were often taken by pirates to be sold. Nicholas evidently acquired them by whatever means necessary and took them back to their parents. The stories of rescued children are everywhere along the Mediterranean Sea coast from France to Turkey. Many sailors told tales of Nicholas praying to calm the sea. His ability to get a ship through rough weather became a legend even before the Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus in Dutch) became renowned for giving to and protecting children. It is also said that he visited regions where famine was in force. He brought food to hungry people saving lives. It would take a ship load of food to relieve a famine in a community. In addition to being the patron saint of sailors, children and young women in waiting, he is the patron saint of most countries in Europe and many more throughout the world. He remains the patron saint of more countries, communities, causes and churches than anyone else in the world. He had several poems penned in his honor, including The Night Before Christmas.

He was allegedly buried in Myra after his reported death in 343. Personally, I do not believe those reports. As Islam spread into Turkey, Sailors "rescued" his bones. His remain were taken to the coast of Italy in 1087. They are interred in a church at Bari. That place became the most popular pilgrimage site in Europe for hundreds of years. It is still popular today. Nicholas is venerated and remembered by all Christians regardless of orientation. He is remembered by the Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Pentecostal. We all yet practice giving in secret especially around the celebration of Christmas. His example of generosity to those in need, especially children continues to be a model for anyone wishing to lead a compassionate life. The modern person most likely to emulate his generosity would be Mother Teresa. In Spain Saint Nicholas travels by white horse. In Scandinavia he travels by sled. In the Netherlands and Belgium he still travels by ship but it is a steam ship.

He does still live on today every time a child receives a gift that was given in secret. A gift with no strings attached and no one expecting recognition in the form of a "thank you". He lives when brides to be are showered with gifts to start a new home. He is remembered and with us "in absentia" whenever we decorate for Christmas. His legends are beyond the scope of this article. You may want to look him up in the Library or on the internet. His good life positively affected thousands of people. He is one of the best people that ever lived. Yes Children there is Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) he is real and is over 1,700 years old. He does love you and he loved the baby Jesus.

Everyone is familiar with our Christmas poem attributed to Clemet C. Moore "The Night Before Christmas". Yes children, there really is a Santa Claus. Finally, Honey is a traditional Christmas Gift; it dates back to a man more famous for his generosity than any other. Indeed his generosity has been remembered over 1,700 years. We will all again remember Saint Nicholas this year, Merry Christmas to you and your family this season.