Wednesday, December 10, 2014

St. Nicholas

Christmas is a time for surprises--anyone can tell you that. From children being surprised that Santa brought them exactly what they wanted to someone being surprised by their spouse with a new Lexus in the driveway (with a big red bow, of course) to the Red M&M being surprised that Santa does exist, surprise abounds.

But, large expensive purchases one really shouldn't be making unilaterally aside, when was the last time you were surprised--truly surprised--at Christmas?

I'm guessing it's been a while.

To be clear, I'm not saying there are no surprises at Christmas. There is always the interest of seeing the largest box under the tree, the joy when that box has your name on it, and sometimes you're surprised by the contents. I was surprised that way with a big fluffy bathrobe one year--surprised by something I didn't know I needed but can't imagine life without now.

But it was Christmas Day and my parents have always been adept at finding gifts that are useful and wonderful. I was surprised by the direction the awesome took, but I was not surprised by the awesome.

So I ask again, when was the last time you were surprised at Christmastime?

I can tell you when the last time I was truly surprised at Christmas:  Monday. You see, Monday was the first day I was back at work after St. Nicholas day. I work at a Catholic university in the Mission and Ministry office. Many of my colleagues are very aware of and in tune with the saints of the church. Add that to the Catholic cultural celebration of St. Nicholas, and you get a yearly visit from St. Nicholas.

I was not raised with St. Nicholas. I knew that he was the saint behind the Santa Claus legend. My mother had some St. Nicholas ornaments--but we never celebrated the feast day. That means that when I walk into my office on December 6 (or the first work day thereafter), I am always surprised to find candy in my office mailbox (finding candy in your shoe at work is just weird). I am in no way expecting it. Every December 6 for the past 3 years, I will go to check my mail, find some candy, and be utterly confused for about 12 seconds. Now that the tradition has been explained to me, I figure it out pretty quickly, but there is always that surprise over candy without context.

Once I think about it, I am never surprised that St. Nicholas visits.. Besides the fact that my office is 80% Catholic and we're at a Catholic school, my office is full of people who care about and think about other people. Many of my colleagues are parents, plan to be parents, or have a metaphorically parental, caring heart. And they all like Christmas and are good at this whole Advent thing. In the moment, though, I am still suffused by surprise and quiet joy that there's candy in my mailbox and I work with one of St. Nicholas's best elves.

And that's how I'll take my surprise at Christmastime, thank you very much. I'm not okay with being surprised with a big-ticket item under the tree or in the driveway, because that's a violation of the planning and mutual decision making I have with my husband. I'm not expecting to run into talking M&M's meeting Santa on Christmas eve in my apartment (although if I do see that, I promise I'll share). I'm over running into the living room on Christmas morning to see if Santa brought me Totally Hair Barbie. But the grown-up surprise of candy in my mailbox as an indication of the caring of my colleagues makes my day and improves my season. Best grown-up Christmas surprise ever!

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