Letters

Letters 04-14-14

Benishek Inching

Regarding “Benishek No Environmentalist” I agree with Mr. Powell’s letter to the editor/ opinion of Congressman Dan Benishek’s poor environmental record and his penchant for putting corporate interests ahead of his constituents’...

Climate Change Warning

Currently there are three assaults on climate change. The first is on the integrity of the scientists who support human activity in climate change. Second is that humans are not capable of affecting the climate...

Fed Up About Roads

It has gotten to the point where I cringe when I have to drive around this area. There are areas in Traverse City that look like a war zone. When you have to spend more time viewing potholes instead on concentrating on the road, accidents are bound to happen...

Don’t Blame the IRS

I have not heard much about the reason for the IRS getting itself entangled with the scrutiny of certain conservative 501(c) groups (not for profit) seeking tax exemption. Groups seeking tax relief must be organizations that are operated “primarily for the purpose of bringing about civic betterment and social improvements.”


Home · Articles · News · Features · When Santa was skinny
. . . .

When Santa was skinny

Emily Manthei - December 20th, 2007
Oh, the parties, the shopping, the cookies, the mistletoe, the fruitcakes! Traditions abound this time of year, and if you’re anything like me, you might feel like a bit of a Scrooge if you catch yourself wondering why you’re stuck finding Aunt Marge another collectable Hummel and what on earth you can get to follow up the pair of styling electric scissors you got Dad last year. So this year, I wanted to rediscover the true spirit of old St. Nick in the present-exchange experience before an unwanted “bah-humbug” set in. So I followed him right to his source:
“Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant, Nicholas of Myra, a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
Believe it or not, this is the real guy - the historical St. Nicholas was born in the village of Patara, which at the time was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. While still a young man, he served as bishop in a Turkish city called Myra in the 4th century. He is celebrated amongst Christians as the patron saint of sailors, children, pawnbrokers (yes, pawnbrokers!) and others in trouble. He is popularly remembered for his acts of charity, which is practiced today in the form of gift-giving throughout the world. On the 6th of December, Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox churches remember the Feast of St. Nicholas with prayers like the one above. Children in Holland and Belgium celebrate this Feast with the coming of Sinterklaas, who fills their stockings and shoes with sweets and presents. And our own Santa Claus tradition at Christmas derives from these practices - but in our gifting we forego the saint for a plump, reindeer-wielding man from the North Pole; about as far away from a Turkish bishop as you can get.

HISTORY O’ NICHOLAS
Although Nicholas’s place in history offers few hard facts about him, the traditions and legends that grew up around him were faithfully passed on by the Church to make him one of the most well-known saints of today. As the story goes, his family were wealthy managers of a local fishing fleet, but instead of going into their business, Nicholas began a pilgrimage to Palestine that led him to serve in the church of Myra when he returned.
After his parents died, leaving him their fortune, he offered their wealth to people in need throughout the rest of his own life. In one of the most popular legends, Nicholas saved a poor man’s three daughters from being sold into slavery because of the family’s poverty. The man could not afford to pay for marriages for his daughters, so Nicholas secretly delivered three purses filled with gold coins for the girls by night. Versions of the legend have him slipping the gold down the chimney, and, in one version, the purses fall into a stocking left by the fire to dry (you can see what tradition that one led to.)
Because of his reputation for this kind of lavish generosity, anonymous acts of charity became commonly attributed to Nicholas, even well after his death. Later, Nuns in France began visiting children on the eve of St. Nicholas’ day to bring them gifts. This tradition quickly spread to central and eastern Europe, where it became an Advent staple.

TALES OF DANGER?
Besides his financial generosity, he is also known as a protector of the vulnerable – sailors lost at sea, the poor of his city, and children in danger.
In another popular - and unexpectedly grisly - tale, Nicholas enters a village suffering from a famine. He has a dream that there is something for him to see in the butcher’s shop, so he enters the shop and finds that the butcher has killed three boys to turn them into meat. Nicholas finds the three boys and is able to resurrect the children and rescue them from the evil butcher. Apart from the obviously fantastical religious motif of this story, the basic premise – Nicholas’ rescue of three boys in danger of death – is believed to be fairly reliable history, and serves as the foundation of his link to helping children in trouble.
Yet another yarn finds Nicholas on a voyage from Alexandria back to Myra. A sailor on his ship gets trapped in the rigging of the ship and it is Nicholas who saves him. German sailors still ask St. Nicholas for protection on long voyages today.

BUSY ST. NICK
The legend of Nicholas’s generosity and kindness, his protection of children and sailors, and compassion for those in need has earned him a revered place in both sacred and secular culture: In Russia, he is one of the most important saints in Orthodox iconography. Catholic parishes in Ireland, Italy, France, and Turkey all claim to host some of his earthly remains. And he is known as patron saint of a number of countries, cities, and towns all over the world, including New York City, Lorraine, France, and Liverpool, England.
Few saints have a busier schedule than our own jolly old Saint Nick.
For some European countries – especially Holland and Belgium – the Feast of St. Nicholas is still the primary gift-giving day in the Christmas season. Sinterklaas arrives from his fair-weather home in Spain by steamship towards the end of November, and is greeted with parades all over the country. He spends the intervening weeks making mall and school appearances to see the children, all leading up to the evening of December 5th. Children place their shoes by the fireplace or the door at night with carrots and turnips for Sinterklaas’ white horse; the veggies are replaced by sweets and presents stuffed inside the shoes in the morning.
The generosity of Sinterklaas is supposed to bear a relation to the generosity and good behavior of the children throughout the year – yes, Sinterklaas has a list of good and bad children too. In his golden book, he keeps the names of the good children, but his black book is reserved for the bad ones, who receive only a stick in their shoes. (Although holiday shopping figures tell us Sinterklaas has eased up on his standards in the past few decades.)

So if you’re having a commercialist crisis this Christmas, perhaps the real St. Nick has the answer; it’s all about the spirit of generosity. The next time you feel yourself disillusioned by gift-giving, think back to St. Nick, and remember that the true spirit of Father Christmas is about providing help for people in need.



















 
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