by Br Todd Aquinas van Alstyne, OP
Like many children, I grew up hearing about and believing in Saint Nicholas. Different cultures have different stories, legends and myths about Saint Nicholas. Growing up in the Dutch tradition, he was called Sinterklaas. His season began well before December and culminated on December 6, which is his liturgical feast day. Sinterklaas arrives every year on a steamboat from Spain (remember, the Netherlands was controlled by Spain before it gained its independence). He parades through the streets on his white horse, Amerigo. The good children get gifts and the naughty are put into a sack and sent to Spain! (As a kid, being sent to Spain didn’t sound so bad to me.) Other cultures have equally bizarre and wonderful traditions.
There are some things that are constant, however, about St. Nick. He was an actual person. He was the Bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) and was one of those present at the council of Nicea in 325. He was a fighter for orthodoxy — specifically around the doctrine of the Incarnation and that our Lord is fully man and fully God. The other constant is that St. Nicholas loved and was very generous to children. Stories abound with his miraculous love and gifts to children and to his devotion to the poor, to sailors, merchants, repentant thieves, brewers and others abound.
As a Dominican Friar, my calling is to be a preacher. For several years, I have been dressing up as Saint Nicholas and exercising my vocation as a children’s preacher. When I walk into a room embodying him and see the children’s mouths drop open, their eyes light up and their ears unlock, I have an opportunity to tell the good news about Jesus that is true to the motivation that St. Nicholas cared about the most: Good news to children!
The stories we grew up with about St. Nicholas are often based in truth. One of the most devastating things a child can be told is that St. Nicholas is not real. Nonsense. He was an historical figure whose spirit and mission lives on and whose spirit motivates my ministry.
Warm Wishes for a Blessed Advent and Generous St. Nicholas Season,
Br Todd Aquinas van Alstyne, OP
Saint Nicholas of New Orleans is going to be very busy in the next several weeks in our diocese. He began his visits in Baton Rouge on November 21 at Trinity Episcopal Day School. He will be making the rounds in December at:
St. George Episcopal School on December 3 & 5
St. Andrew’s Episcopal School on December 4
Christ Church Cathedral on December 6
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church on December 8
St. Anna’s Episcopal Church on December 15