Christmas Traditions > Santa Claus

Posted On December 22, 2009

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Santa Claus, also known as Father Christmas, is the American and British variant of the European folk myth of Saint Nicholas, explaining the source of Christmas presents given to children on Christmas Day.

The Japanese also observe Santa Claus in Christmas, although the holiday is different.

Conventionally, Santa Claus is portrayed as a kindly, round bellied, merry bespectacled man in a red suit trimmed with white fur, with a long white beard. On Christmas Eve, he rides in his flying sleigh, pulled by reindeer, from house to house to give presents to children. During the rest of the year, he lives at the North Pole, in Finnish Lapland, or Dalecarlia in Sweden (traditions vary) together with his wife, Mrs. Claus, and his elves who serve as his toy production staff.

Traditionally, the names of his reindeer are Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Rudolph, ‘the red-nosed reindeer’, was not one of the original reindeer, but has featured in many modern aspects of the Santa Claus legend, including the song of the same name.

The modern Santa Claus is a composite character, made up from the merging of two quite separate figures. The first of these is Saint Nicholas, a bishop of Myra in Byzantine Anatolia, famous for generous gifts to the poor. In Europe he is still portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes.

The second character is Father Christmas, which remains the British name for Santa Claus. Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 1600s in Britain, and pictures survive of him from that era, portrayed as a well-nourished bearded man, dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe. He typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, and is reflected in the ‘Spirit of Christmas Present’ in Charles Dickens famous story, A Christmas Carol’.

When the Dutch still owned the land that later became New York, they brought the Saint Nicholas’ Eve legend with them to the Americas, however without the red mantle and other symbols. Note that in Dutch, the feast is called ‘Sinterklaas feest’, it celebrates the birthday of sinterklaas during Sinterklaasavond [“Sinterklaas’s evening”] December 5th or in Belgium at December 6th. Sinterklaas was Americanized to Santa Claus, but lost his bishop’s apparel, and was at first pictured as a thick bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat.

Santa Claus appeared in various colored costumes, as he gradually became amalgamated with the figure of Father Christmas, but red soon became popular after he appeared wearing such on an 1885 Christmas card. The horse was converted to reindeers and a sleigh. In an attempt to move the origin of the festivities away from their pagan background to a more Christian one, the date was moved a few weeks to the celebrated day of the birth of Jesus, Christmas.

Santa’s image was further modernized by the Coca-Cola Company, who at the turn of the 20th century featured the character in a variety of advertising campaigns. These campaigns helped establish a “uniform” Santa character, whereas prior to this his appearance and costume had varied from artist to artist.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, has been immortalized in a song which is frequently played at Christmas. The other names, outside Rudolph, were invented in a poem, A Visit From St. Nicholas, better known today as The Night Before Christmas, ascribed to Clement Moore, although there is some question as to his authorship. It is suspected that the names Donner and Blitzen come from the German phrase Donner und Blitze which means Thunder and Lightning. An alternative explanation is that Donder is the original name of the seventh reindeer, as Donder en bliksem is Dutch for Thunder and Lightning. The reindeer are traditionally pictured with antlers, although male reindeer shed their antlers in the winter. Female reindeer keep their antlers until spring.

Many Christian churches dislike the secular focus on Santa and the materialist focus that present-giving gives to the holiday. They would prefer that focus be given to the birth of Jesus, their nominal reason for the Christmas celebration. It should be noted that the festivities at this time of year are predated by the pagan Yule festivals which were subsumed within Christianity. A history of Santa Claus was written by L. Frank Baum, the same man who wrote the Wizard of Oz. However, the historical basis for Santa Claus was Saint Nicholas of Myra.

Historically, one of the first artists to capture Santa Claus’ image as we know him today was Thomas Nast, a cartoonist of the 19th century. In 1862, a picture of Santa appeared in Harper’s Weekly by Nast. It is believed the inspiration for his image came from a mythical German character called Pelznickel (Furry Nicholas) who visited mischevious children in their sleep. The Coca-Cola Company featured in its advertising a Santa Claus designed by artist Haddon Sundblom, which helped to popularize the design of Santa that Moore and Nast originated. Urban legend has it that Santa Claus in his current guise was in fact created by Coca-Cola, though this is highly unlikely. To this day, Santa Claus still appears on Coca-Cola products each year around Christmas time.

In addition, the depiction of Santa at the North Pole also reflected toward the popular opinion about industry. In early images in the early 1900s, Santa was depicted as personally making his toys by hand in a small workshop like a craftsman. Eventually, the image changed to the idea that he had numerous elves responsible for making the toys, but the toys were still handmade by each individual elf working in the traditional manner.

By the end of the century, the reality of mass mechanized production became more fully accepted by the Western public. That shift was reflected in the modern depiction of Santa’s residence which is often humorously depicted as a fully mechanized production facility equipped with the latest manufacturing technology overseen by the elves with Santa and Mrs. Claus as managers. Many TV commercials reflect this depiction with humorous business with the elves as a sometimes michieviously disgruntled workforce cracking jokes and pulling pranks on the boss.

UPDATE > the tradition of Saint Nicholas

Patron Saint of children and sailors, Saint Nicholas was a 4th-century bishop from Myra in Asia Minor. He was famous for giving gifts to children. His feast day, December 6, became a children’s holiday in Holland, where he is known as Sint Nikolaas. English colonists in New York (previously the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam) called him “Santa Claus” because they couldn’t pronounce the Dutch name. The English began celebrating the feast day on Christmas.

Saint Nicholas of Myra

Kriss Kringle, another name for Santa Claus, developed in Germany around 1600. German Protestants recognized December 25, the birth of the Christ child, Christkindl, as the time to give gifts. “Christkindl” evolved into “Kriss Kringle.”

In the Netherlands and Germany, the Santa Claus figure often rode through the sky on a horse to deliver presents to children. He often wore a bishop’s robes and was sometimes accompanied by Black Peter, an elf who whipped naughty children. In addition to the tradition of Saint Nicholas, the three Wise Men gave gifts to the baby Jesus, starting the Christmas gift tradition.

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Santa not delivering gifts

Police were called in to prevent a clergyman dressed as Father Christmas from delivering presents to children at an asylum centre.

The Rev Canon James Rosenthal, dressed in a red robe with a long white beard, was refused entry by guards at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire, UK.

After a stand-off, security guards called the police to remove Mr Rosenthal who is the Anglican Church’s leading expert on Saint Nicholas, reports the British newspaper Daily Telegraph.

Mr Rosental said he was “extremely disappointed” that 35 boys and girls at the centre were denied a pre-arranged visit by the patron Saint of children and the imprisoned.

“Saint Nicholas has never been turned away from anywhere before. So I was extremely disappointed not to be able to hand deliver the gifts to the children detained at Yarl’s Wood,” he said.

Serco, a private security company that operates Yarl’s Wood, referred questions to the Home Office. A spokesman said only people subject to stringent security checks can be allowed into the detention centre and there can be no exceptions.

Mr Rosental was accompanied on the trip earlier this month by the Rev Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, canon theologian at Westminster Abbey. He said: “This was about bringing a moment of joy to kids locked up in a deplorable situation. I can’t help but contrast the smiles and wonderment on the faces of the children Saint Nicholas visited at a local primary school with the sad fate of those kids who will be locked up in Yarl’s Wood over Christmas.”

The £300 worth of presents, donated by churchgoers, were eventually loaded into an unmarked van by security guards.

Christmas controversy?

The dream of Christian children worldwide: Jerusalem celebrates three Christmases! That statement is, of course, a bit misleading. The traditional Christian communities, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian, celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25, January 6 and January 19 respectively, negating the possibility of Santa coming thrice to the same child.

These faith traditions each bring their own customs to the holiday, but share a common focus on the mystery and glory of the event, deemphasizing the commercial aspects so prevalent in the West.

Most Europeans and Americans are unfamiliar with the Armenian Church, which is ironic, because Armenia officially adopted the faith in 301 CE (about 25 years before Rome), and has maintained an emphasis on the Christ-mass, without the more secular gift-giving.

Bishop Aris Shirvanian, spokesman for the Armenian Patriarchate, explains why the Western churches were more influenced by pagan practices surrounding Christmas.

Christmas parties and gift-giving stem from “merrymaking inherited from the old pagan worship of the sun god – Saturn” he said. “Saturnalia was celebrated on December 25 in Rome, while Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus on January 6. The pope of the day, Sylvester, in order to abolish the pagan feast, moved the celebration of Jesus’s birthday from January 6 to December 25, but the Armenian church had no reason to change the date because there was no pagan feast in Armenia on December 25.”

Since the Armenians maintain the ancient date of Christmas as well as the old (Julian) calendar, 13 days are added to January 6, postponing Armenian Christmas until January 19 on the modern (Gregorian) calendar.

The Armenians focus on astvadz-a-haytnootyoon – revelation, since the January 6 holy day celebrated both Jesus’s birth and baptism. Many churches still celebrate Epiphany, the baptism of Jesus, on January 6.

Since Jesus’s birth and baptism are celebrated together, water is a vital aspect of the Armenian feast. Water, blessed by the Armenian clergy, receives the addition of oil believed to be similar to that which Jesus used to clean the feet of his Apostles, and is distributed to the congregants. The oil additive is said to come from St. Thaddeus, who first preached the gospel in Armenia, and is considered to have healing properties.

On January 18, Christmas Eve, Patriarch Torkam Manogian leaves the Armenian Quarter of the Old City with a large entourage and police escort. In centuries past the horse drawn procession stopped at the Greek Monastery of Mar Elias outside Bethlehem to water the horses and allow devotees to refresh themselves. Modern processions keep that tradition, as the Palestinian Authority assumes responsibility for the procession. Greek Archbishop Aristochos notes that the two governments work diligently to ensure Christmas access to Bethlehem. The Greek Orthodox Church enjoys a similar procession on Christmas Eve.

The procession continues to Bethlehem’s Manger Square, where there is an official reception. The congregants enter the Church of the Nativity – shared by the Roman Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Armenians – and a mass is held. After a festive supper and rest, the midnight mass begins, concluding at about 3:30 Christmas morning.

The Greek Orthodox were reluctant to join the Western church in celebrating Christmas on December 25, but eventually did so for the sake of unity. Both East and West agreed to celebrate Jesus’s birth in December and his baptism on January 6. Still, Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Church clings to the Julian calendar, so when it adds the required 13 days to December 25, it celebrates Christmas on January 7 according to the modern calendar.

A highlight of the Greek Orthodox Christmas season is the Feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 and a pilgrimage to the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas in Beit Jala. St. Nicholas was a church father born in the late third century who made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in about 330 CE. Tradition holds that he slept in a cave in Beit Jala while visiting nearby Bethlehem. The church built over that cave commemorates his pilgrimage.

Archbishop Aristochos states that St. Nicholas’s feast day “prepares us for Christmas.” Since St. Nicholas was noted for his kindness and generosity to children, many believe this contributed to the Western tradition of giving gifts on Christmas. Influenced by northern European immigrants to the US, St. Nicholas’s memory eventually morphed into Santa Claus, akin to the Dutch Sinterklaas.

The Greek Orthodox observe a 40-day fast before Christmas. The fast forbids meat, milk and eggs, but allows fish after the first week until the beginning of the last. This culminates with a great feast on Christmas Day including fried fish, asparagus with egg and lemon sauce, bean soup, and honey cake with nuts.

There are a number of beliefs related to the kallikantzaroi – “bad spirits” according to the Archbishop – that are released during Christmas and wreak havoc until January 6, when Epiphany is celebrated.

These spirits are mischievous, toppling things and scaring people. Still, tradition holds that home remedies can be employed to restrain them. Among these is a sprig of basil wrapped around a wooden cross. Eventually the kallikantzaroi are expelled by the priest on Epiphany as he sprinkles holy water (associated with Jesus’s baptism) around the house.

Like the members of its related liturgical churches, Roman Catholics proceed to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve, celebrated December 24. This is the celebration for which Bethlehem is most noted. Whether associated with the church or not, Manger Square fills with thousands. Multitudes of Muslims also come to witness the event.

But in smaller parishes quieter ceremonies occur on Christmas Eve. Franciscan Father Fergus Clarke is guardian of St. John in the Mountains Church, built at the traditional site of John the Baptist’s birth, and on Christmas commemorates the Magnificat – the Virgin Mary’s extended quote in Luke 1.

“Since we’re a very small community,” he says, “it’s extraordinary that on Christmas Eve our church is full of mostly Jewish people. For example, last year I counted only eight Christians present. Since the church is very small, holding about 110 people seated, when I say it was ‘full,’ I mean standing room only. These Jewish people arrive as early as 11:15 for midnight mass. What is really so edifying is that the Jews, predominately young, stand in complete reverence and silence for almost an hour and half. If you compare it to other churches you wouldn’t see such reverence and patience.

“Remember, the mass is celebrated in a foreign language for them, since we celebrate in Italian. The whole ritual is foreign to them, apart from the homily, which is given in English. But they come from as far away as Tel Aviv, and many call in advance to be sure they’ll be here on time. They come because of some sense of mystery or awe of the divine that comes from the ritual, the music, and their memories – transmitted from their parents, perhaps. For us it’s a very uplifting ceremony because of their presence and attitude.”

Fergus says the Israeli presence contributes to the “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” that Luke says the angels proclaimed at Jesus’s birth. “This year we are having an Israeli choir sing at midnight mass, and two years ago we had a Southern Baptist from Alabama sing a solo,” he said.

Protestants maintain no official presence in Bethlehem, although many visit for interdenominational “shepherds’ field” services convened by the YMCA in nearby Beit Sahur. Many attend local services in Jerusalem, such as those at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City, or at the Baptist Church near the city center.

Lindell Browning is a Nazarene minister living in Jerusalem. Browning’s tradition includes traditional “shepherds’ field” services.

“‘Shepherds’ field’ is wherever the shepherds are in Bethlehem; it’s not a specific field that we know of. There’s no way to know.”

Browning says he and friends read the birth narratives together from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, often asking one of the young people to read the account of angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest.” They sing carols, pray and share thoughts on the Christmas message.

Browning believes that in Jerusalem there is great stress placed on the angels’ declaration to secure peace on earth. “In this area of the world it’s something we pray for, something we want to see happen. Isaiah predicted the coming of a man who would be called the prince of peace, and that’s our declaration: Christ is the prince of peace for the world.”

Among Christians in Jerusalem there is less focus on the commercial aspects of the holiday. “I think there’s much less emphasis on shopping and much more interest in people that are less fortunate than us. There were a couple of years when we gave each other smaller gifts and gave gifts to needy families. There were other years on which we made gifts for each other so we could better give to those in need. Here too [in Jerusalem] there’s much more time because we don’t have the Christmas activities that we would in the States. So we get together with friends and share.”

For the majority of the Israeli population it is a normal work day. Some Jerusalem Christians do put up Christmas trees, as the Israeli government provides trees free. A few shops decorate their windows for the holiday, but for the most part, commercialism is subdued and the season is pared back to its devotional origins.

The Armenians, proceeding into Bethlehem on their Christmas Eve, summarize the motive for the march as they sing joyously “Great and Wonderful Mystery.” Greek Archbishop Aristochos says Christmas is in memory of the event “by which begins our salvation,” while Father Fergus calls for goodwill toward men. The Brownings and friends quietly find a hillside and try to imagine what the shepherds experienced, expressing their devotion in good works.

St. Nicholas would recognize a Jerusalem Christmas. The real Santa Claus: St. Nicholas was born in Patara, a Greek village (now Turkish) in the late third century. Although it’s difficult to distinguish legend from fact, scholars agree on several points about his life.

Nicholas was from a wealthy fishing family and was generous to young people. A story, regarded as accurate in its essence though shrouded in legend, holds that on three different occasions he provided dowries for poor girls, thus saving them from slavery. Tradition maintains that these dowries, tossed in through a window, were bags of gold that landed on stockings or shoes left near the fire to dry. Similar stories tell of Nicholas’s generosity in saving people from starvation.

Due to a wealth of popular support, Nicholas was elected bishop of Myra on the coast of modern Turkey in the early fourth century. About 330 CE he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and was there for several weeks, often sleeping in a cave in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem. The St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church now stands over that cave.

Nicholas died about 350 CE on December 6 – a feast day that was already being celebrated only a few years after his death. Due to the day’s proximity to Christmas, as well as his generosity, Nicholas became caught up in the season’s lore.

Throughout much of Europe alms were given to the poor on this Saint’s day, and children were the special recipients of gifts. Medieval French nuns would distribute candies on December 6.

Nicholas began the transformation into Santa Claus mostly by way of German and Dutch immigrants to North America. Germanic St. Niklaas became Sinterklass, and eventually Santa Claus. Some less desirable aspects of northern European fable may have immigrated as well: His flying reindeer may stem from myths of the Norse god Wodin riding through the sky.

Reformers like Martin Luther tried to stop the metamorphosis, hoping to portray the baby Jesus (Christkindl in German) as the gift giver. Kris Kringle, derived from that German word, is now a synonym for Santa.

Nicholas’s image in Dutch-influenced New York changed from pious churchman to elf-like gift bearer. This picture became formalized by a few poems, notably the Christmas favorite “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (now known as “The Night before Christmas”) in 1823.

Currently burdened by commercialism, it’s hard to envision Santa’s prototype, the generous and devout Nicholas, making the dangerous trip to the Holy Land and sleeping in a cave in order to worship at the site of the first Christmas.

East is East and West is West: The early church can be roughly divided into East and West. The Eastern church, later Byzantium and the Eastern Orthodox liturgies, maintained different holidays, traditions and even doctrines than the Western church, which remained bound to Rome and the pope. Among the points of disagreement was the proper dating of Jesus’s birth – Christmas Day.

There is an ancient Jewish tradition that a prophet dies on the day of his conception, and the early church applied this formula to Jesus. Eastern and Western churches, through various and often questionable reasoning, determined respectively that Jesus died on April 6 and March 25. The Roman Catholic Church still celebrates the latter date as the Annunciation of the Birth. Adding nine months of pregnancy to those dates results in a December 25 or January 6 Christmas.

Scholars also hold that the December 25 date was especially appealing to the Western church because it replaced the birthday of Sol Invictus (invincible sun). Romans thought that on that day the sun began its ascent and the days began to lengthen. The pagan ceremony contained much revelry, drinking and immorality which the early church couldn’t condone. Sun worship was outlawed under penalty of death, in the hope that worship of the Son would replace it.

Clearly that did occur, but not without echoes of the pagan traditions surviving. Imbibing and, to a lesser degree, gift-giving and holiday lights are related to the pre-Christian feast. Still, the Eastern church maintained the January 6 date and combined it with Epiphany, the day of Jesus’s baptism.

Eventually, under pressure from the Western church as well as its own clergy’s inability to go to both the Jordan River and Bethlehem on the same day, a compromise was reached in the middle of the fifth century. Christmas would be celebrated December 25 and Epiphany on January 6 by both churches. This is simple enough, but when the Julian calendar was replaced by the Gregorian one, the Eastern church in Jerusalem continued using the old calendar. This results in a January 7 Christmas (December 25 plus 13 days).

Armenians refused the compromise, maintaining both the old January 6 date as well as the Julian calendar. Consequently Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 19 (January 6 plus 13 days).

Christmas in Italy > Santa Sleeps Here

Italian youngsters more interested in a witch than a jolly old man, but Santa’s roots are buried here.

Nonetheless Santa Claus won’t be coming to towns and cities across Italy this Christmas, because he never really has. He’s just not a part of the holiday tradition. Strangely, though, anyone interested in getting to the heart of the Santa mythology would find its roots on this country’s east coast. For children in Italy, the jolly man bearing gifts is called Babbo Natale, he’s an Italian version of Father Christmas, but rarely found in the southern half of Italy.

“Babbo Natale is really someone who came from the northern part of Europe,” said Betta Alinovi. The Roman designer and mother of two young girls said she does remember believing in Babbo Natale when she was young. “But it wasn’t really something you saw in my parent’s generation, so it’s relatively new to Italy.”

A Different Kind of Christmas > Of course Christmas in Italy is a major event, just like in America. Maybe too much of an event for some. “It’s far too commercial” complains Alinovi. “How can children understand the true meaning of Christmas?” she said.

A sentiment that is increasingly shared by parents at Christmas time. Ironically, people from outside Italy, particularly from North America, find things pretty, well, traditional over here.

Ruth and Scott Grove live in Rome with their three children, ages 6 to 10. They’re originally from northern Virginia and they lived the typical “American” Christmas for many years. Ruth Grove said it’s different in Italy: “We like Christmas here because it’s not the hustle bustle, there’s not the commercialism, and it can be a nice, family, relaxing holiday.”

More relaxing it may be, but the Christmas period in Italy tends to last a little longer, right through until the Epiphany on January 6, when there’s another round of gift-giving.

The La Befana Legend > There’s no escaping the deeply traditional La Befana, the kindly witch who flies around on a broomstick who drops gifts into the stockings of children who have been good and lumps of coal in the stockings of children who have been not so good.

Grove said Befana has saved Christmas for her family on more than one occasion. “Whatever my kids didn’t get for Christmas, the Befana can quickly go shopping and make up for it,” she said with a laugh. “I was terrified of Befana when I was a child” said Alinovi. “But it’s a big tradition in Italy, much bigger than Babbo Natale.”

Another blow to Babbo Natale, the closest thing Italy has to Santa Claus. This is remarkable when you consider that the man who inspired Santa Claus is actually buried in Italy.

The Real St. Nick > St. Nicholas, the fourth century bishop, is of course widely known to be the figure that was ultimately transformed into the jolly man in the red suit. But how did that happen? And how did good St. Nicholas, a bishop from southern Turkey, come to be buried in a sleepy Italian seaport?

St. Nicholas of Myra lived in the Lycia region of the Roman Empire, what is now southern Turkey. St. Nicholas dedicated his life to helping the less fortunate and was revered for acts of generosity, kindness and in particular for his anonymous gift-giving to children. He died in A.D. 343.

As the centuries passed, St. Nicholas became enshrined in Christian mythology and became the patron Saint of cities across Christian Europe. His tomb in Myra was popular with pilgrims and remained under the control of Christian rulers for hundreds of years after the fall of the Roman Empire. But with Islamic armies sweeping in from the East, concern grew that it would become increasingly difficult for Christian pilgrims to visit the tomb of St. Nicholas.

In 1087, a group of sailors from Bari, on the eastern shores of Italy, travelled to Myra. The sailors convinced the Orthodox monks who were watching over the tomb of St. Nicholas to allow them to carry the sacred remains to safety.

A New Home > The bones of St. Nicholas arrived in Bari on May 9 of that year, they were laid to rest again, an enormous church was built and the shrine once again became a major pilgrimage center.

In Germany, Sankt Nikolaus, and in Holland, Sinterklaas, became Santa Claus of Christmas fame and that tradition was carried to the Americas by European settlers. The magnificent Basilica di San Nicola in Bari is visited by thousands of faithful and tourists every year. So perhaps the next time your children ask if Santa Claus is real, maybe you should take them on a trip to Italy.

St. Nicholas Festivals

Posted On November 24, 2006

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St. Nicholas is celebrated though several different kinds of festivals.

Many cities and villages hold parades in November to mark St. Nicholas’ arrival for the season. Amsterdam is a prominent example of a parade for Sinterklaas’ arrival.

St. Nicholas’ Eve and Day are observed in various ways, most of which are smaller and more family centered.

Each year in May, Bari, Italy, hosts a huge religious folk festival to commemorate the bringing of St. Nicholas’ remains to Bari from Myra. This important festival is one-of-a-kind.

St. Nicholas is patron of many things and places. Nowhere is he more beloved than in the Lorraine region of France where St. Nicolas-de-Port provides an example of a splendid patronal festival.

Find out more: http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=104

The true story of Santa Claus?

Posted On November 24, 2006

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The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara.

At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering.

He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to the those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.

Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals, murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.

He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day.

Read more at > http://www.stnicholascenter.org/Brix?pageID=38

Twas the Night Before Christmas

A Visit from Saint Nicholas, or, as most know it, Twas the Night Before Christmas >

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below,
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his courses they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so up to the house-top the courses they flew,
with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!