December 4, 2008

The Friday Record - December 6th - The Feast of St. Nicholas*

*Also know as Little Christmas

I first learned of Little Christmas in 1978, when I was an exchange student in Finland. My host family celebrated it with a party and the exchange of small gifts. December 6th is the Feast Day of the Roman Catholic Saint Nicholas, a fourth century bishop of the city of Myra in what is now Turkey. He is one of those the legend of Santa Claus is based on.

According to the website Women For Faith and Family “Saint Nicholas was renowned for his great kindness and his generous aid to those in distress. Among the kind and miraculous acts attributed to him are saving three young girls from prostitution by secretly providing them with dowries, raising three murdered boys from the dead, and saving sailors caught in stormy seas. For these reasons, he is considered the patron saint of children, unmarried girls, and sailors, among others.”(1)

But it is wrong to assume that he is the legend of Santa Claus. He is one of many, including the pre-Christian Scandinavian legend of Odin, who rode throughout the world in winter on his eight-footed horse, Sleipnir, giving out gifts or punishments. (2) Other legends include Knecht Ruprecht, Sinterklass and Father Christmas.

The custom of hanging stockings also derives from these legends. Dutch children would put out their wooden shoes for Sinterklass to leave them goodies – apples, candies, cookies and sometimes money to represent the dowries of the three young girls whose dowries St. Nicholas paid. Of course, those who were bad received coal or switches instead.

All of this information is in no way to say that there is no Santa Claus. There is always truth in every myth Besides,the Feast of St. Nicholas a wonderful way to celebrate the coming holiday season, but I think we sometimes forget the reason behind the celebration. People get upset thinking Santa Claus has taken over the holiday, but the truth is, he is part of the holiday and we should embrace that. Just as The Sun says we should:

Dear Editor,
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says "If you see it in The Sun it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?

—Virginia O'Hanlon, 115 West 95th Street

Virginia,
Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


~ Francis P. Church

Here's a great site about both letters and their writers:

http://www.barricksinsurance.com/virginia.html

And the sites I gleaned information from:

1. http://www.wf-f.org/st.nicholas.html
2. http://www.stjohns-online.org/nicholas.html

What is your fondest memory involving Santa Claus?

~Anna Kathryn
www.aklanier.com

3 comments:

Gerri Bowen said...

That was interesting, Anna. I remember one of my brothers telling me to visit the 'Santa' at the local grocery store and pull Santa's beard off. He said it would be mister so and so. I knew it wasn't Santa, but I also knew if I did pull the beard the man would get angry and I would get in trouble. :D

Judi Phillips said...

When my kids were little, we always celebrated St. Nick's Day. This was the day they wrote their letters to Santa and left them in the fireplace. That night, Santa flew by and picked up the letters. And left a small token of candy or fruit or a cookie to remind the kids to be good so he wouldn't have to leave a lump of coal in their stockings. Even now that they're all grown, I usually e-mail them today to remind them to send a letter to Santa (and give them whatever e-mail addy I make up) and make sure to cc me so that I know they have written him. ;-)

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Thanks for the memories. Judi, I really like your idea. Honestly, not growing up in a catholic community church (as I am now), I didn't know about St. Nick's Day. I really like your tradition. It's a nice way to kick off the holiday season.

Anna Kathryn