St. Nick's secret gifts
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    The holiday season is upon us and our days are being filled with shopping, writing holiday cards, lighting Advent candles and the various loving and caring activities we cherish during Christmas and Hanukkah. I always find it interesting when I learn about the traditions associated with holidays and why we do what we do.
   For example, the legendary jolly old Santa Claus was inspired by an actual person. Nicholas of Myra was a fourth-century bishop who lived in Asia Minor, the area known today as Turkey. Popular for his secret acts of charity, the bishop was known to stash gifts of food or money in the shoes of the poor. Those who were wanting would leave their empty footwear out for him. 
   The townspeople also suspected the generous bishop was responsible for other anonymous gifts, relying on an inheritance from his wealthy parents. After Nicholas died in 346 AD, people continued his custom of making secret donations, saying the gifts were from St. Nick.
    Venerated as a saint long before official canonization procedures, Nicholas is remembered especially among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He’s the patron saint for children and honored annually on December 6 when European children put shoes or boots outside their door to be filled with treats. If youngsters have been good, they find treats; if they have been bad, they get a lump of coal or a rod.
   While the feast day of St. Nicholas isn’t observed nationally in the U.S., people living in cities with a strong German influence—Milwaukee, Cincinnati and St. Louis—celebrate St. Nick’s Day similar to Europeans. 
   So when you hang up your stocking this holiday season, hoping to find goodies Christmas morning, think of St. Nick.    Remember how he secretly gave to the less fortunate and consider imitating his kindness. 
Fern Gavelek