Giving Gifts and the Story of St. Nicholas

Giving Gifts and the Story of St. Nicholas



I give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. Psalm 9:1

In all things I have shown you by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  Acts 20:35


Good morning Prayer Team!

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas, the saint on whom the tradition of Santa Claus is based.  St. Nicholas lived in the fourth century.  He took part in the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea in 325 A.D., which was one of the most important events in the history of the church since this Council gave us the Creed as well as the determining which books would comprise the Holy Bible.  St. Nicholas was first a priest and later a Bishop and was an important leader in the church.

However, what he is most remembered for is his spirit of generosity.  St. Nicholas is remembered for giving.  He was born to wealthy parents and was orphaned as a child and raised by his uncle.  He spent his life divesting himself of his wealth.  He would secretly go and give gifts or money to children who were orphans like him, or to disadvantaged families, to widows and to the poor.  And this is where the tradition of Santa Claus comes from—Santa Claus gives gifts to children, the same way that St. Nicholas was giving gifts to children.

St. Nicholas/Santa Claus provides an example of what it means to GIVE.  Most of us don’t understand the concept of giving.  Giving is offering something without any expectation of a return, a reward or recognition.  When we expect something in return, we are really exchanging, not giving.

It would be more accurate to say that at Christmas we mainly exchange gifts, rather than giving them.  Because virtually everyone expects to receive gifts.  Few just give and expect to receive nothing in return.  There is nothing wrong with exchanging gifts. In fact, this is a beautiful tradition at Christmas.  However, many times we are disappointed in what we receive.  We say “Wait I bought this for you and I only got this in return!”  This is not the spirit of giving for sure.

At times of the year other than Christmas, we should practice true giving, rather than exchanging.  If we donate something but want our name on it, then we are really exchanging money for recognition.  If we offer something expecting a reward, then we are exchanging money for reward.  To truly “give” is to offer expecting nothing in return.

When receiving something, we should always offer gratitude.  But when we give something, if no one says thank you, we should still be willing to give.  So, make a habit of giving without expectation, and then you will truly be giving.  St. Nicholas ended his life with virtually no material possessions but with a bounty of spiritual riches.  Ironically, we receive the Kingdom of God by giving of what we have to help others, without expectation of reward.  The only one whose reward we really need is the Lord. May He see what we do in secret and may He reward us richly for it.

Lord, thank You for the many gifts You offer so freely to me.  Help me to offer freely and joyfully as well.  Help me to give without expectation of reward or recognition.  Help me to have the spirit of St. Nicholas, to see those who need help, and to have a heart of compassion which inspires me to share with those around me.  Through the intercessions of St. Nicholas, guide me to a greater understanding of what it means to give.  Amen.

Make a gesture of giving something today (time, a gift, etc.) without expectation of reward.


+Fr. Stavros

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Photo credit: St. Nicholas CenterChristmas stamp, Ukraine, 2006 St Nicholas Center Collection

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About author

Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis

Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015, has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “ and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.”