The story of Santa Claus begins with Nicolas, born into a wealthy family in the third century on the southern coast of Turkey. His parents died when Nicolas was young, and perhaps turned over in their graves when Nicolas chose to obey Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor” by giving away his entire inheritance to assist the needy, sick and suffering. He eventually became a Catholic bishop and was known for his generous gift-giving and love for children. For centuries people have celebrated his life by likewise giving presents to others, especially on Dec. 6, the anniversary of his death, and of course on Christmas Day, when children await the arrival of Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick.
Nicolas left a legacy of generosity. He lived his life as if anything that had been given to him was a potential blessing to give to someone else.
It’s easy to become cynical and forget the power of generosity in a glitzy, consumer-driven holiday haze. We can give and receive gifts almost mechanically, through a sense of “duty” or ritual, which then leaves us more empty than before. But genuine generosity expects no benefit beyond the sheer warmth of knowing that someone’s life has been made better through the gift.
This holiday season, a groundswell of generosity can change Oak Cliff. But how?
First, generosity serves as an antidote to consumerism and narcissism. Most people spend their days thinking about themselves: what they want, what they feel, what they will do. A generous, large-hearted approach to life considers the other before oneself.
Second, acts of generosity remind us that it really is more blessed to give than to receive. Jesus stated this not as an encouragement to give more, but as a trusted, truthful saying. Recently I was enjoying breakfast with friends at Oddfellows in the Bishop Arts District when I was told that our meal had been paid for. This act of kindness changed my whole day.
Third, when we become generous, we become more whole. It’s ironic that giving something away can make one more complete, but that’s the wonder of generosity.
Generous, magnanimous living makes the world a better place. Many people come to the end of their lives and ask: what did I leave behind? How did I help others? Why did I chase after material things, when what matters the most cannot be bought? Generous people know that what matters most can only be given and received.
St. Nicolas said, “The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic God’s giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.”
On Dec. 6, I’m planning a day of generosity to honor Saint Nicolas. Join me by tipping a server more than expected, taking a neighbor to lunch, giving your time by singing in Jingle Bells on Bishop, or leaving a gift on someone’s doorstep. They’ll be blessed, and so will you.