St. Nicholas’ Shoes
By Fr. Dustin Lyon
It’s that time of year again.
Christmas lights are up and plastic lawn decorations of that old jolly man in a red suit have appeared. Yet, that jolly old man is more than a cartoon caricature that we hope brings us the new iPhone in our stocking this year. In fact, the real Santa Claus was the Orthodox bishop of Myra in the early 4th century. We know him as St. Nicholas and he reminds us about the importance of giving to others.
Because when we give, we have the opportunity to significantly change other peoples’ lives for the better – and there’s no better example than St. Nicholas himself.
In the time of St. Nicholas, there was a man who was once very rich, but times became tough and finances were so hard that this man had to think of creative ways to earn money just to put food on the table. This man was so desperate to feed his family that he decided the only way he could get enough money was to sell one of his three daughters into slavery.
This may sound very harsh to us, but in this time and place, this happened often. People who came upon hard times were forced to sell family members into slavery just to make ends meet.
When St. Nicholas heard of this man’s plan to sell one of his daughters, he decided to help. Late that night after the family went to sleep, St. Nicholas stopped by and threw a bag of coins into the man’s home. The money landed in one of the girl’s shoes, which was set by the fire place. The next morning, the man found the gold coins which allowed him to buy food and host a wedding for the daughter he had planned to sell into slavery. As the story goes, St. Nicholas helped this man with all three of his daughters, providing money to cover wedding expenses that allowed all the daughters to marry good husbands instead of being sold into slavery. St. Nicholas’ generous gifts helped change this man’s world (and his daughters’ world) for the better.
In this story, St. Nicholas’ gifts all landed in the shoes of the daughters, so it has become an Orthodox tradition to lay out our shoes on the eve of St. Nicholas Day (December 6th) in hopes of finding gold coins in them when we wake.
The story of St. Nicholas reminds us that we should do more than look for gold coins in our shoes. We should look to walk in his shoes by giving to others to make a difference. Our gift may not be saving someone from slavery, but a gift as simple as a smile to a stranger or buying a coffee for someone can still make a big difference in their life.
When we follow in St. Nicholas’ shoes – loving others by sharing our gifts and talents with them, we become people who make a difference and spread Christ’s love. This is when we truly embrace the meaning of St. Nicholas’ name, “victory of the people.”
Fr. Dustin Lyon is a priest at St. Elias the Prophet Greek Orthodox Church in Dubuque, Iowa