Christmas is in the air! There are beautifully decorated trees everywhere, and Christmas music in the malls. We start making a list and checking it twice—to see who’s been naughty or nice. Then we check our wallets and start to stress out.
But where did the practice of gift-giving come from? Many of you may have heard about Magi from the Orient who brought precious gifts to Jesus as an act of worship. And yes, bringing our offerings is definitely an important part of worship.
So what about the idea of giving presents to others at Christmas? How does it relate to St Nicholas? And I don’t mean the TV image of a fat Santa Claus in a red and white suit! I mean the real Saint Nicholas, who was a Greek bishop from the 4th century city of Myra. Church history tells us that he had wealthy parents, but after they died, he gave his inheritance away to help the poor and destitute in his community.
One story is about a poor family with 3 daughters whose father couldn’t afford dowries for them, so they couldn’t get married and had a good chance of ending up as beggars. Well, Nicholas had compassion on them but wanted to help in secret, so he went by night and threw a bag of gold coins through their window. He did this 3 times, and the last time the father saw him. Although Nicholas begged him to keep it quiet, the secret leaked out. Whether the details were accurate or not, his generosity was well-known.
Thus, this has become a meaningful tradition for me – giving to the poor at Christmas time and especially giving in secret. Matthew 6:3-4a comes to mind:
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.
So that is what I learned from St Nick, not about who’s been naughty or nice this year. It’s not about finding the ‘perfect’ gifts for my friends, nor buying fancy, expensive things for people who may not need them. But giving generously to the poor and needy, without fanfare. As you know, the second part of Matthew 6:4 tells us:
Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Ultimately, we give as a reminder of the greatest gift of Christmas, Jesus Christ who gave everything, even his life, for us. I pray that this season will bring you much joy and peace, giving cheerfully and remembering the real reason for celebrating Christmas!