The first thought that pops into the mind at the mention of the month of December is Christmas. Right from the first day of December, Christmas fills the air. Streets bustle with people dressed in their holiday best, passersby exchange smiles, houses are decorated in hues of red, green and white, children make their snowmen with pointy noses and button eyes, trees are adorned and stores are crowded in the hope to buy the perfect presents. The nativity play is enacted around the world, midnight masses are held at churches, and the world seems to be full of cheer.
Adopted from the Manger in Bethlehem where Christ was born, the traditional rituals associated with the festival across the world don’t differ much. Caroling, for instance, was how the three wise men and the three shepherds welcomed the infant Jesus into the world. The Star of Bethlehem on top of the Christmas tree represents the guiding star that led the guests to where baby Jesus lay. The gifts we are so excited to unwrap on Christmas morning, are symbolic representations of the presents given to Jesus.
However, there is something else to Christmas that outshines all the other aspects–the spirit of joy, the spirit of love and most of all, the spirit of giving. This is a tradition that reminds us to be grateful for what we have and to share with others what they don’t have. The legend of Santa Claus has its roots in the same exuberant spirit. Santa is more than a legendary figure who lives in the North Pole and rides a sleigh pulled by reindeers. He is symbolic of the virtues of generosity, togetherness and hope. Let’s retrace the story of Santa.
The legend of Saint Nicholas has been told and retold every year. The lessons learnt from this legend tell us what Christmas is all about.
Many years ago in 4th century AD, there lived a Bishop in Myra (now part of Turkey). His parents had died young, leaving him a lot of wealth. The Bishop had a reputation of being generous to the less fortunate. There was a poor man in Myra with three daughters. He was so poor that he couldn’t afford dowry for his first daughter’s wedding. When Nicholas heard about this man, he dropped a bag of gold down his chimney to help him out. The gold fell into a stocking that was hanging to dry at the fire place. The poor man was able to get his daughter married. This was repeated the next year when the poor man wanted to get his second daughter married. He wondered who was giving him all this gold. When it came to his third daughter’s wedding, he hid by the chimney and discovered the truth. Nicholas begged for it to be kept a secret as he didn’t want to draw any attention to himself but that didn’t happen. Nicholas earned the title of Saint due to these acts of kindness.
The legend of Saint Nicholas has been told and retold every year. The lessons learnt from this legend tell us what Christmas is all about. Acts of kindness on Christmas, for instance, are representations from the many stories of Saint Nicholas. In Netherlands, when the story was told, St. Nicholas was called Sinterklaas who later came to be known as the iconic Santa Claus. Santa has become synonymous with generosity and kindness, irrespective of whether Christmas is culturally akin or alien to people.
So this Christmas, I decided to bring Santa out of theoretical references, closer in action than just in thought. Instead of hoping for Santa to bring me what I want, I want to be Santa to someone. I am told this is a time to give and not to worry about getting. As a friend aptly put it, give love to those who need it and time to those who are lonely. Cheer, smiles and joy spread only when we think beyond ourselves.