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In our world today, we might associate Santa Claus more with consumerism, but do you know the Christian roots behind the story of this iconic Christmas character? St. Nicholas lived around the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Legend has it that he punched the heretic Arius at this Council. Around this time, he was also imprisoned by the Roman emperor for preaching Christ when it had been forbidden. Upon his release from prison, he focused on those who were less fortunate—children, widows, orphans, and the poor.

When the day of his release from prison came, St. Nicholas had only one thought—he committed his life to others, especially children. He reputedly used his entire inheritance to bless others with providing what they needed. He gave gifts quietly and without fanfare. Only a simple note was attached:

Remember the Christ child, the greatest gift of all.

St. Nicholas worked to change mankind with a message of love and hope. How can we, as churches and individuals, also participate in this simple gift-giving this season and share the message of hope and love in Jesus Christ? Maybe it’s through our longtime traditions, or maybe it’s in new ways?

Here are a few mission-driven traditions that churches throughout the Central USA region have been honoring throughout the years:

“About 14 years ago we began an outreach event called Christmas Wonder that offered various family-oriented keepsake crafts, face painting, Christmas photo ops, live nativity, and hot chocolate bar and festive cookies. We could not do this last year because of Covid-19, and we chose to skip this year for the same reasons. We are hoping to bring this back in 2022.” -New Life Church in Lenox, Illinois

“We donate items to Operation Christmas Child, and do a packing party, and eat food together as a church during Advent. It's been a great way to remember our Great Savior, and to remember those in need as we've been given so much.” -New City Church in Kansas City, Missouri

“On the first Sunday in December the local Ministerial Association has a ‘Welcome Christmas’ service for the entire town. This year it will be held in our church. We have a Reformed, Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, two Lutheran, and a Catholic church in our small town of 1900 people … We also take an offering for the Butler County Cheer Fund so they can give gifts or money to people in need in our county.” -Parkersburg CRC in Parkersburg, Iowa

“We do a live nativity each year with narration and caroling and live animals. It includes a meal for the community to enjoy, and music in the sanctuary. This year we are doing our Sunday School Christmas program on the same evening. We started this in 2019 and obviously didn't do it last year, but we are looking forward to it this year.” -First CRC in Waupun, Wisconsin

“The Gifts of Hope Ministry (at our church) provides Christmas gifts to children of inmates, women and children in shelters, adults with disabilities, and families that need assistance…The Christmas Basket Ministry (at our church) is another opportunity where baskets are assembled and delivered to over 150 local families that are in need or facing a crisis. In November we begin gathering the names of families from local schools, churches, various ministries, as well as friends, family, and neighbors of our congregation. The actual morning of the Christmas Baskets starts early with truckloads of food arriving at the church. The trucks get unloaded, the food is assembled into each.” -Orland Park CRC in Orland Park, Illinois

Which of your Christmas traditions are outreach-focused? In what ways are you sharing—or could you share—the message of hope and love in Jesus Christ?

Peter Kelder is Resonate Global Mission’s Regional Mission Leader for the Central United States region.

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