In which the writer muses on insomnia, Santa, and going to Hell in a handbasket

December 7, 2017 2:01 am Published by Leave your thoughts

Today is St. Nicholas day, a celebration generally passed over in the United States since our coca cola version of the ancient bishop of Turkey drops by our houses on Christmas Eve, not December 6. I do recall several years in elementary school where we would return to our wet, formerly snow-laden boots to find that someone had placed candy inside, (an event that I found simultaneously exciting and disgusting). Other than being informed, however, that these damp treats were for the celebration of St. Nicholas day, I do not remember learning anything else about either the legendary man or his holiday.

My first true experience celebrating St. Nicholas day came in 2007. I was a student in Vienna sitting at my desk for my 9:15 class with the illustrious Frau Summasberger. There was a shatter of noise in the hallway that I immediately assumed was gunfire. As I was preparing myself to meet the Lord a bit prematurely, I realized my classmates remained outwardly unphased. This terrifying sound then came directly outside our classroom door and it swung open, revealing a man in a bishop’s costume accompanied by another man dressed like Dante’s devil. They swung into the classroom, whereupon our professor directed the team as to which students were to be struck with switches held by the hideous goat-man, and which of us were to receive small bags containing chocolate and clementines. I am happy to state that I was among the latter group. I am still recovering from this event.

After class, Frau Summasberger explained to me that on Saint Nicholas day good children are rewarded with presents while bad children are beaten with sticks.  After this, the Krampus (scary goat-devil man) puts them in his basket and “bringt sie zur Hölle.” That’s right folks. Bad American children are threatened with coal, but bad Austrian children go to Hell in a handbasket. Just something for you to ponder.

Anyway, for as many traditions as there are surrounding St. Nicholas, there are twice as many legends. The patron saint of children, sailors, repentant thieves, and even brewers of beer, is credited for caring for orphans (as his own parents both died in an epidemic when he was young), giving his private wealth away to save poor women from prostitution, and (my favorite) punching Arius in the face at the council of Nicea for denying the full divinity of Christ. How much truth there is to these legends is unknown, but it seems that it is certain enough that Nicholas of Myra, whoever he really was, was zealous for Christ and the care of his people.

One of the lectionary readings for today comes from Luke 21: 34 -36.

“But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.  For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.  But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Dissipation and drunkenness are not among my everyday problems, but I confess that I am often guilty of letting my heart be weighed down by the cares of this life. I have trouble sleeping. I am very often literally awake, but when I am, I am most often mulling over those cares, not praying for strength or considering that I will someday stand before the Son of Man. I was thinking of this as I read this passage from Luke. I was thinking that perhaps Nicholas was a good example of staying awake, of being aware, and prayerfully pressing on through the struggles of life in the expectation and hope of our Savior’s return. I am going to think on this when I am awake tonight. Perhaps this will give you something hopeful to think on if you find yourself awake with me. And I am really sorry if it’s that story about the Krampus that keeps you up…

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This post was written by Nicki