The Real Santa Who Fed the Hungry

by William Lambers

St Nicholas giving food to children
Cathedral Church of St Mary, Limerick, Ireland
Photo: Dermot Hurley, used by permission

The Santa Claus we know and love was based on Saint Nicholas, a 4th century Christian bishop from what is now modern day Turkey. St. Nick's idea of Christmas today would be gifts of food for the millions of starving people in the world.

George McKnight's 1917 book on St. Nicholas describes the saintly man's dedication to feeding the hungry: "It was so on a time that all the province of S. Nicolas suffered great famine, in such wise that victual failed. And then this holy man heard say that certain ships laden with wheat were arrived in the haven."

Those ships were actually en route to another destination to deliver the wheat. St. Nicholas went to those ships pleading for food donations to help his starving people. However, the ship captains said they could not spare any because it had been measured. The Emperor in Alexandria, whom they were making the delivery for, would punish them if they gave away food before reaching their destination.

St. Nicholas promised them, in God's name, that any amount they gave would not lessen their cargo. The ship captains agreed and unloaded food for Nicholas to distribute to his people.

It is written "Then this holy man distributed the wheat to every man after that he had need, in such wise that it sufficed for two years, not only for to sell, but also to sow." The communities of St. Nicholas had food again. And when those ships arrived at their destination their cargo measured no less than before. It was another miracle attributed to Nicholas, servant of God.

The greatest gift one can give is food to a starving person. Doing so does not diminish what you have, but rather lifts up the hungry and yourself. This story of St. Nicholas is a great example for anyone to be a great negotiator in getting food to the hungry. Imagine if every leader in the world followed that example.

The poem "A visit from St. Nicholas", (known as Twas the night before Christmas) led to the creation of Santa Claus and the gift giving in today’s holiday. If you turn on the television in December you will definitely see commercials about sales and super expensive products. Christmas shopping can easily get wild and excessive.

If we are to be true to the legend of St. Nicholas, Christmas should include food for every hungry person in the world. For we know the real St. Nicholas, who lived the Gospel, would not allow someone to starve.

As this Christmas arrives though many people are starving, including children. There are massive hunger emergencies like in Southern Africa. The UN warns "more than 11 million people now experiencing “crisis” or “emergency” levels of food insecurity (IPC Phases 3 and 4) in nine Southern African countries: Angola, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Madagascar, Malawi, Namibia, Eswatini and Lesotho."

In the Horn of Africa drought caused by climate change has caused food shortages in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

South Sudan, Afghanistan, the Sahel of Africa and Syria are all suffering in hunger because of conflict. In Yemen, civil war has left over 20 million people in need of food aid. Haiti and Central America also live in hunger because of drought.

The World Food Program, Save the Children, UNICEF, Catholic Relief Services, Action Against Hunger and other relief agencies need more funds to keep up with the hunger crisis.

The non-profit Edesia, which makes life-saving Plumpy’nut to treat malnourished children, sent some overseas along with stuffed animals. The starving children would have food to eat and a friend so they are never alone. That is a gift in keeping with the true Christmas spirit.

To follow St. Nick's example is to feed the hungry. Donating to hunger relief in honor of someone would be a magical holiday gift that you would never forget.

William Lambers is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Program and Catholic Relief Services on the book Ending World Hunger, from Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Massachusetts, December 6, 2019, permission pending.

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