Taking Back St. Nicholas

What are your images of the Feast of St. Nicholas? Mine come initially from grade school where I learned that the gift-giving that we usually associate with Christmas happens on St. Nicholas’ Day or Eve. Those chocolate letters that one sees in the mall are used for that feast traditionally. I also remember the story that Dutch children put out their shoes, hoping to have them filled with candies and small gifts overnight by St. Nicholas.

St. Nicholas was a Bishop and Saint of the early Christian Church, before the separation into the Roman Church and the Orthodox Church. An article from the St. Nicholas Center tells us that many claim him as their patron saint, from pawnbrokers to sailors. Sailors, in particular, have claimed St. Nicholas as their patron to the point that there are often Churches honouring St. Nicholas in seaports. The St. Nicholas Center notes that there are 400 churches named after St. Nicholas in England! http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/

In recent years, however, December 6 has become associated with the world-wide effort to end violence against women, because of the murder of fourteen young women in Montreal on December 6, 1989, young women murdered because they were women. Something to contemplate on the Saint’s Day is why we have been unable to make real progress into the goal to end violence against women. Even this year, we have had to consider why such institutions as the CBC and the House of Commons cannot articulate and implement a code of conduct that does not tacitly condone harassment or violence against women. Is this, in the end, so difficult to develop or live by?

Somehow, and I am not sure how, I worry that the sexualization of very young girls has something to do with the way women are still treated. When you look through the clothes available on store racks for girls, much of it emphasizes their sexuality, and their attractiveness as sexual objects, but not as equal partners. No boy ever has to wear a pair of shoes that you cannot walk comfortably in, but girls’ shoes are often not made for functional use. There are many articles of clothing for girls whose beauty emphasizes sexuality and not functionality. Should we not reconsider the message that is being sent with such clothing?

In our quest for gender equality, we have worked to ensure that there are women doctors and lawyers and engineers. But do we really promote gender equality when we have not sought to ensure that there are as many men in education and nursing as there are women?

Finally, we always remember the name of the man who killed the women in Montreal, but who remembers the names of the women?

One of my favourite things about St. Nicholas is that he was the patron of so many groups and causes. He was generous in his support of others. You could say that anyone could have him as their patron. Because my image of St. Nicholas and his feast day originated at an age when miracles seemed very possible, I believe that he would immediately decide that the fourteen girls murdered on his feast day needed his patronage. Knowing this reassures me. No one gets to steal the Feast of St. Nicholas. May he grant the peace these girls deserve and help us to fight for the justice all women need.

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