True story of Saint Nicholas is amazing

Published 5:21 am Sunday, December 23, 2012

Column: Live United, by Ann Austin

When we arrive at this time of year a man in a red stocking hat is usually seen around the community, in stores, at children’s events and on the television. Santa Claus is as prominent as they come. It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement, presents and lore of Santa — a man who has flying reindeer and visits children’s homes around the world in just one evening alone!

Ann Austin

But the true story of Saint Nicholas is even more amazing. He was a real person, born between AD 260 and 280 in Patara, which was on the southern coast of Turkey. He grew up with wealthy parents who died in an epidemic, leaving him with much wealth. His parents raised him as a Christian and the words of Jesus “sell what you own and give the money to the poor” resonated as he was looking for his purpose in life.

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Nicholas decided to devote his life to assist the needy, sick and suffering. He was made the Bishop of Myra and was known for his generosity, his love of children and concern for others. There were no magic flying reindeer, no huge sack of toys or fancy outfit. He was just a man who loved others and chose to express that love by giving back.

I don’t think I heard the true story of Saint Nicholas until I was in my teens. It made me wonder what other traditions I had practiced without knowing the true meaning. As I’ve grown older and have started to think about raising children, I have wondered which story I would prefer to share with them.

I would prefer the true story. In a time when we have become increasingly focused on possessions, the story of Saint Nicholas may help us re-connect with the meaning of the season. And perhaps we can see the greater meaning behind all of the traditions we practice.

Sometimes the real magic gets lost when we focus too much on fantasy. The real magic is when people open themselves up to others. We are no longer isolated or afraid; we see there is always hope. And when we have hope, we begin to trust in our future.

Ultimately we need to decide what kind of world we want for our children and how we can best arrive at that place. Children don’t need to be fed fairy tales to inspire them or help them find enthusiasm for life. They are already excited to be part of this adventure and they just need our love.

As adults we can fall prey to the draw of the things of this world, but we often come to realize that after we’ve accumulated everything we think we need, we are still left feeling a sort of emptiness.

I doubt Saint Nicholas felt emptiness in his life because, rather than focus his efforts on accumulating possessions or power, he chose to live a life of service. No matter what profession we have, we can choose to live a life like this and be a model for our children.

It is our intent that matters—and what we choose to focus on as we do our daily tasks. We should choose to focus on helping others and building a better community rather than on personal achievements.

This will be my last column of the year. I want to thank everyone who has been a faithful reader. I communicate much better through writing than I do through the spoken word. The messages I’ve relayed this year have communicated the values of United Way. I am so honored to be part of this work and to work alongside the amazing people in our community.

Thank you for playing a role in the betterment of our community—whatever part you’ve played, whether you’ve given, advocated or volunteered. You are appreciated! Thank you for your encouragement and thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. We are excited for the New Year, with all of the hope it brings. We wish you and yours much joy!


Ann Austin is the executive director of the Freeborn County United Way.