I always love celebrating the feast of Saint Nicholas with my little preschoolers. They love learning that he was the original Santa Claus, they love taking their shoes off and walking around in only their socks, and they love returning to find gold coins inside of them “from” Saint Nicholas.
“Santa,” by the way, means “saint” in Spanish. It’s no coincidence that Santa Claus got that name and it’s no coincidence that St. Nicholas often wore a red robe and had a long, white beard.
Legend has it that Nicholas, who was a bishop in what is now Turkey, heard about three sisters who were very poor so he climbed onto their roof and threw gold coins down their chimney, which landed in their stockings that were drying on the fireplace. Hmmmm….stockings on a mantel and someone climbing on a roof and giving gifts. Again, no coincidence here.
If you’re still not convinced, revisit “The Night Before Christmas,” in which it is St. Nick who slides down the chimney, has a bowl full of jelly, and hollers “Now Dasher, now Dancer, now Prancer and Vixen, on Comet, on Cupid, on Donner and Blitzen!” Not one mention of Santa is made throughout the timeless tale.
Today jolly old St. Nick is considered the patron saint of children and we celebrate his feast day on December 6.
St. Lucy is also a popular December saint, especially in Sweden where she is called St. Lucia. The name Lucy means “light” and light is how she is celebrated. Her legend comes from stories told by Monks who first brought Christianity to Sweden.
The most common story is that young Lucy would secretly bring food to persecuted Christians in Rome who lived in hiding in the catacombs under the city. Lucy would wear candles on her head so she had both her hands free to carry things and so she could see in the dark underground. Her feast day, December 13, is now celebrated by a girl dressing in a white dress and a crown of candles on her head. The crown is made of Lingonberry branches, which are evergreen and symbolize new life in winter. Towns and villages often select a local girl to play St. Lucy, a national Lucy is chosen, and young girls all over Sweden dress up as St. Lucy. St. Lucy Day is also celebrated in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Bosnia, Croatia and anywhere there are large Scandinavian populations.
St Lucy is considered the patron saint of the blind and those with eye-trouble and she reminds us that the beautiful lights of Christmas honor the birth of Jesus, the true Light of the World.
South of the border in Mexico, the same level of adoration is bestowed upon Our Lady of Guadalupe. The story goes that Juan Diego witnessed a Marian apparition of an Indian woman dressed like an Aztec princess who sent him to ask the bishop of Mexico City to build a chapel on the spot where she appeared. The bishop was not convinced it was Mary so she appeared again and gave roses to Juan Diego to take to the bishop. When Juan Diego opened his cloak to deliver the roses, on the fabric was a portrait of Mary as she had appeared to him, ultimately convincing the bishop and all who believe. We celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day on December 12 and she is considered the patron of the Americas.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has always held a special place in my heart, as I attended OLAG school in Santa Fe, made my First Holy Communion in the beautiful church there, and was married in it as well. I also love that she told Juan Diego, “Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything.” From her we learn both faith and understanding.
Those are just three of the saints honored around Christmastime. Saints are considered “heroes” of the Catholic church and who doesn’t need a hero in these trying and tumultuous times? Let’s all take the time to pray and remember the real Reason for the Season.