St. Nicholas: a truth that ages over time
Known as Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna, Nicholas of Myra, Bishop of Myra, Hagios Nikolaos, he lived in the 4th century A.D. in what is now Turkey. He was very generous, and loving toward children. Often he gave joy to poor children by throwing gifts in through their windows.
His fame spread rapidly in the Middle Ages and thousands of churches are dedicated to him. The Orthodox Church proclaimed St. Nicholas a miracle worker. The Roman Catholic Church honored Nicholas as one who helped children and the poor. He has been the patron saint of Russia, Moscow, Greece, children, sailors, prisoners, bakers, pawnbrokers, shopkeepers and wolves. Historically, prior to the modern celebration of Christmas, his day of honor has been December 6th.
St. Nicholas became a popular figure by the 11th century, known for his great generosity and healing powers. With the rise of the Protestant Church, he was nearly forgotten, except in the Netherlands, where they called him Sinterklaas.
Dutch colonists settling in New Amsterdam, now called New York City, brought the story of St. Nicholas with them. Added to the legend of this kind old man were old Nordic folk tales of a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good children with presents.
Christmas American Style
It wasn't until the 19th century that Americans began to embrace Christmas, to reinvent Christmas, and change it from a raucous carnival holiday into a family centered day of peace and nostalgia.
Many works such as A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens written in 1843, depicted Christmas as a family event held in the home.
The poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas" written in the early 1800s tells the story of a plump bearded man. Thomas Nast, a newspaper artist, know mostly for political cartoons, published works of Santa Claus and Christmas Traditions appearing in Harper's Weekly newspapers in the 1860s contributed to American ideas of Christmas and Santa Claus.
Miracle on 34th Street
Every religious belief, every personal philosophy, at some point in time comes down to faith. One of my favorite movies of the Christmas season is Miracle on 34th Street. The one line from the movie that is forever etched in my brain is, "Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to."
The original version of Miracle on 34th Street was released in 1947. The movie does not delve deeply into the legends of Santa Claus, but takes the approach of what if Santa Claus really exists. The questions it raises, and the way it spins them are just as relevant today, as they were then.
The movie challenges us to question our beliefs. What if a man claimed to be Santa Claus, would we lock him up as a lunatic? Would we see him as just another crazy person in need of an asylum?
I Believe in Santa Claus
In 1995, I wrote the poem Believe in Santa Claus as a gift to my
children. It was at the point in their lives where many children
question the belief in Santa Claus and feel betrayed that Santa Claus is
just a joke that adults play upon children. As children grow up, it is
also a time when adults reject the concept of Santa Claus because they
claim it conflicts with their beliefs.
Some folks would have you think that to believe in Santa Claus is counter to the true meaning of Christmas. I am at peace with how I feel, and believe in the true spirit of St. Nicholas. To believe in Santa Claus is to believe in the simplicity of love and the complexity of human nature.
Whether you choose to make Christmas a celebration of the birth of Jesus, to believe in the true spirit of St. Nicholas, or simply to celebrate and reflect upon another year, it can best be summed up by this quote from President Calvin Coolidge: "Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.
Graphic: Thomas Nast “Merry Christmas to All”
Harper’s Weekly, December 29, 1865 | Public domain graphic edited by Tom Peracchio
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