Maybe not so much here in the United States, but in many parts of the world, children will receive little gifts today—perhaps chocolates, candies, or small tokens—usually in their shoes. Today is St. Nicholas Day on which many celebrate that larger-than-life, yet historical figure from whom we get the concept—and name—of Santa Claus.
I won’t go into the historical veracity of St. Nicholas or even many of the stories told about his life. What I do want to focus on is his immense generosity.
Three Sacks of Gold
Perhaps you are familiar with the most famous story of all from St. Nicholas’s life. Three young sisters wanted to get married but their poverty prevented them from doing so—a dowry was required at that time in order to marry. The girls were, in fact, going to be forced into prostitution to make ends meet. St. Nicholas, however, came to the rescue and on three successive nights, dropped a sack of gold coins into the house—one for each young woman—through an open window. While they may not have left out milk and cookies for him, the act of someone secretly putting a gift in the house at night may sound familiar.
Jolly old St. Nick was a real person, with magnanimous, self-giving generosity. What are we doing this Christmas to in some way imitate this level of generous charity for our neighbor? And I am not, of course, referring to just material gift giving, though that’s a lovely start. Have we made concrete resolutions in some areas of our life where we may be lacking generosity?
Generosity in Hidden Places
Perhaps these areas are even somewhat hidden from others, like areas of temperance with food and drink, or waking up on time, or exercising enough. These may not seem like opportunities to be generous, but they are, in fact, very rich fields for sowing generosity. They are opportunities to be generous with others by becoming our very best selves. The virtuous person (and temperance is a virtue!) is more free to love and serve others. They are not weighed down by petty addictions and the bondage that occurs through the intemperate slaking of one’s passions.
But even with other areas too—like finer points of charity (punctuality, sincerity, or even good grooming)—we can always be more generous. And, if we believe in Him, we can always be more generous with God. In this way, we love and serve Him and our neighbor through Him.
This month, you may be rushing around to the shopping malls or perhaps feverishly surfing the web for the best deal. Perhaps the traditional scene on Black Friday is the best emblem of our Western (particularly American) approach to Christmas: grab what you can before someone else gets it and buy, buy, buy before the deals run out. Punching and stepping over others to get gifts to give to family and friends isn’t exactly the true spirit of Christmas. Yet being outcome-driven rather than people-driven, we do it anyway.
Three Ways to Be Generous
So how can we become more generous? First of all, we need to focus more on this virtue, really a subset of the greatest of all the virtues: love. Do we look back on our day each night and examine how we have been generous—or how we have failed in this area? Do we really want to be generous or are we content with our squalid turning inward: our selfishness?
Second, do we give ourselves opportunities to practice generosity? For example, some families follow the tradition of donating 10% of their income each month to various charitable organizations. Though challenging, this commitment can make it easier to be generous when a new need or request comes in. After all, if you’ve already decided to give money away, it becomes a matter of choosing which charities will receive it.
To return to the example of temperance, if our struggle is in drinking too much alcohol or perhaps overeating, when the occasions of temptation do arise, do we reframe this situation as an opportunity to face a challenge—to be generous?
Third, are we grateful for others’ generosity with us? A habitual reflex of gratitude for the generosity others show us—especially in the case of God’s many gifts to us—will train us to be generous ourselves: to give as we have received.
Asking St. Nicholas
So this Christmas, let’s follow the example of St. Nicholas and may our generosity with others overflow. We may even ask St. Nicholas for the means—both spiritual and material—to follow through with our resolutions. We will always have enough to be generous!