Saint Nicholas: Love in Action
By Lois Rock
Jesus told his followers that they must love one another, and do practical things to show this love. One of the key times when he said this was on the day before his death, now remembered as Maundy Thursday (John 13:1-20). A close follower of his called James later wrote:
My brothers, what good is it for someone to say they have faith if their actions do not prove it? . . . Suppose there are fellow human beings who need clothes and don't have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, 'God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!' if you don't give them the things they need to live?
Saint Nicholas is remembered as a Christian who did take care of poor people in his community. He gave them gifts secretly- perhaps remembering Jesus' teaching:
When you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it . . . God will notice.
This background provides a good basis for exploring with children the gift-giving side of Christmas linked with 'Santa Claus' or 'Father Christmas' and discussing what it can mean for Christians.
Santa Claus or Father Christmas and the whole tradition of giving gifts at Christmas is generally very well-known. In many cases, children will eagerly talk about their own traditions of gift-giving at Christmas. However, in any group where there are children whose families do not celebrate Christmas, you will need to widen the discussion to include a broader range of gift-giving occasions—perhaps festivals of other religions, traditions from other cultures, and birthdays.
- Talk about the kind of gifts they like to receive.
- Talk about choosing gifts for others, and the value of trying to give something that will suit a person's likes and interests. Talk about different types of gifts they can give:
- Things they have made. Ask why this can be extra special.
- Things they do. This can include helpful chores, taking time to talk and listen, or doing something more exciting and maybe challenging, such as giving a party.
- Talk about the different reasons why many people from all kinds of backgrounds want to give to help those in need.
- Talk about the idea of secret giving. Is this always the best approach? Sometimes it is nice to know who the giver is and how much they care for you-so when is secret giving the right thing to do? Why do they think Jesus told people to keep their giving of gifts to the needy secret from others?
Ideas for Giving Projects
Learning about Saint Nicholas can be a starting point for a special giving project: perhaps making a gift for someone at home, or little gifts to exchange with one another.
If there are opportunities for giving to children in need, you could make a giant stocking into which anyone able to contribute could add their gift.
It could inspire a giving project on a grander scale: perhaps staging a concert for family members, and taking a collection of money to give to an organization that works with the poor.
From Festivals of the Christian Year: Teacher's Guide, Lois Rock, Lion Publishing, 1996, p. 6. This teacher's guide accomanies Festivals of the Christian Year, a beautifully illustrated book of things to make and do. Permission pending.
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