The Gift of St. Nicholas

Everyone has their favorite Christmas decoration—from the heirloom ornament to the old-fashioned Santa to the treasured Nativity scene. For my daughter, it’s a 12-inch St. Nicholas figure she received when she was seven months old, not from her grandparents, godmother, or favorite uncle but from someone she never knew. Our beloved priest.

Like many new parents, we spent more than a few Sunday Masses in the vestibule of the church when the girls were babies. On one particularly difficult morning, my husband took Abigail, just a few months old, to the back and started up a conversation with a newly-arrived priest who we had not met. He didn’t mind Abigail’s crying at all, even telling Patrick that he’d rather have parents bring fussy babies to church than not bring them at all. Over the next few months, we came to know him well, and he always enjoyed seeing Abigail, especially when those cries became smiles. His name was Msgr. Peter Dora.

Early that December, when I stopped into the rectory one day, Msgr. Dora said he had something for Abigail and emerged with a long white box. Inside was the St. Nicholas figure, complete with his staff, red robe, and long white beard. It was exquisite, and I was in awe, not just because of the gift itself, but as to why he would give it to her. He explained that over the years he had collected many likenesses of St. Nicholas and had recently decided to start giving some away to one child each Christmas. This year, he said, he chose Abigail.

Msgr. Dora only remained at our church for several years, so Abigail has no memory of him. Nevertheless, now at 17, she still treasures this piece like no other, always placing it on its own shelf in the living room, adjusting the robe just so, and making sure the staff is straight. As the story goes, the fourth-century St. Nicholas was known for his benevolence, helping others, and giving gifts, often in secret. Abigail’s St. Nicholas though came as a gift itself, from one who wanted only to share something special with a child.

For so many years, Msgr. Dora’s figure has sat on our shelf, a symbol of every gift given with love. Abigail informed us, though, that this might be its last. She’s already making plans to bring it to college with her next year and place it in her dorm room before Christmas. I’ll miss its presence, but it will go where Msgr. Dora intended it to: with her, that gift of St. Nicholas which has always meant so much more than just a figure on a shelf.

By Emily Clark