Thursday, December 24, 2009

SANTA or SAINT NICK?

Why are there so many names for one man? And why does he look so different?

Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus,
Kris Kringle, Old Saint Nick



And what about elves, gnomes,
nisses, or companions to help Santa? Why are there so many?

Because there are so many cultures, countries, and people who celebrate Christmas. Some of the celebrations have merged together and people believe these names classify one man but is that true or is it merely a merging of beliefs over the centuries?

I'd say it's a mixture. These names all symbolize the spirit of giving through one heroic iconic individual. Saint Nicholas may not really be Santa Claus but he sure is similar--at least in my opinion.

During the holidays I hear people complain that Christmas begins earlier and earlier every year but did you know that Christmas starts earlier and lasts longer in most other countries?

The United States is a capitalistic society where everything is rush-rush, hurry-hurry but other countries savor the season. Still, I have to warn you that not all the celebrations are based on cheerful legends, in fact, some are pretty gruesome but here is a sampling of stories from around the world. And, some of the countries that celebrate Christmas do it for weeks rather than days.

The Netherlands begin their celebration on December 5th on Saint Nicholas or Santa Klaus Eve.

Saint Nicholas was a fourth-century Bishop born in Spain who brought Dutch children holiday gifts.

In Syria:

In Syria and Lebanon Christmas celebrating begins on the anniversary of Saint Barbara's death. It is said she became a martyr in 235 on December 4th.

Not a happy holiday story but legends tell of a beautiful girl named Barbara who was pursued by many men; however, she had nothing to do with them because they were all pagans and was devoted to her Christian faith. Her pagan father was so angry that he tried to kill her but miracles kept saving her. Finally she was locked away in a prison so no men could see her beauty when the authorities denounced her as a Christian and the pagan judge condemned her to death. Her own father carried out the execution.

Despite her suffering, she never wavered in her love for God. That's why Syrian children love Saint Barbara and are taught of her courage and devotion.

Today Saint Barbara is remembered with a Feast that uses candles, vivid colors and candies to help celebrate.

In Lorraine, France

December 6th begins the celebrating of Saint Nicholas' Day.

Saint Nicholas is said to bring candies and nuts to all the good kids but he has a not so kind companion, Pere Fouettard, who is similar to Holland's Zwarte Piet, he carries a bundle of sticks and remembers which boys and girls have been naughty or nice. Bad little boys and girls have to keep an eye open to make sure they don't get swatted with a switch on their toes as Pere Fouettard passes.

In Sweden:

Saint Lucia's Day is December 13th in Sweden. She wears a white dress with a red sash and a wreath of lit candles on top of her head. She announces the Yuletide. This custom goes back to 304 when legends says Saint Lucia was condemned to death. Another gruesome tale. Folklore says she was born in Sicily to a noble Christian family and had her own eyes removed by a rejected suitor because he was a pagan. The suitor was so angry he denounced her as a Christian and she was imprisoned where she was tortured and killed.

But, Lucia means "Light" and she is honored with the candles.

There are so many different ways to celebrate the season and so many different days that people party but, it seems to me, most countries celebrate the season in similar ways using the cozy comforts of life to make the season memorable. And what better way to celebrate than with good food shared with family and friends? And it never hurts to decorate the house and add a little warmth with the glow from flickering flames and scented candles plus it's always fun to share presents and goodies.

Does your family have any traditions that have been passed on throughout the decades?

1 comment:

Lily Robinson said...

I love going to the candlelight service at church on Christmas eve. (I missed it this year, though.)