This image of Saint Nicholas as the Spirit of Christmas, I offer to all my Haystack readers as my “Merry Christmas” greeting. The painting is the work of this old folk artist who attempted to capture the abundantly lavish extravagance, the mystical charm and mirthfulness of Christmas. This image of Saint Nicholas is a Kansas prairie icon that like all icons invites one to carefully decode the meaning of all its symbols and wealth of images.
However, while sumptuously opulent, this image fails to even come close to encapsulating the implications of the Incarnation—God assuming as God’s own our human nature not only in Jesus, but also in each of us and in all of humanity. Christmas then is a global feast of all peoples of all religions.
In this Christmas icon, St Nicholas carries a big heavy bag of gifts to signify that December 25th is the feast of gifting. The gifts in his bag are exceedingly exceptional—they all lack strings! That makes them truly extraordinary since typically our presents have tied to them invisible strings, requirements that gratitude must be expressed for the gift!
St. Nicholas and Santa Claus are the Patron Saints of Anonymous Giving, and as such they challenge each of us who gives a gift this Christmas. Both of these men are notorious for giving gifts and then disappearing instead of waiting around to be thanked! Every gift given without personal strings invisibly attached, even the tiniest string of the giver expecting his or her present to delight the receiver, is a double gift. Not only do such stringless gifts carry the second gift of freedom from feeling bound to respond to it, they also wear a holy halo.
Giving gifts without expecting any acknowledgement is engaging in the Divine Art of gifting practiced by our generous God. The Divine Giver who lavishes daily upon us an avalanche of gifts does not require, nor expects or needs us to say, “Thank you.” God gives simply for the pure wholesome joy of giving. These twelve days of the Christmas season give us time to attempt to give our gifts as does Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas and God.