Friday, December 24, 2010

Guess Who’s Coming To Our House ….

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m telling you why…Santa Claus is coming to town.

And so is Christ. Well, not literally, just the anniversary of His birth. And, while we wait, we do not cry, we do not pout, but, rather, we rejoice and are glad.

Isn’t it interesting that we celebrate the coming of Santa at the same time as the coming of Christ.

How did this happen?

The basis for the Christian-era Santa Claus is the 4th century Bishop Nicholas of Smyrna (Turkey). He was very rich, generous, and often gave joy to poor children by throwing gifts through their open windows. He is also said to have thrown three bags of gold coins down the chimney of a poor man who couldn't afford the dowry for his three daughters. In another version of the story, the bags of coins fell into stockings the girls had placed by the fire to dry. And so was born the modern tradition of hanging stockings by the fireplace and coming down the chimney.

The name Santa Claus evolved from Sint Nikolaas, the nickname for Saint Nicholas, into Sinter Klaas. His legend was brought to America by Dutch settlers. It was Clement C. Moore, however, who really popularized the legend of the saint including his appearance, his method of transportation and the names of his reindeer. He originally wrote the poem, "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," ("The Night Before Christmas") for his family, but it became quite popular after it was published anonymously in 1823.

The Orthodox Church later raised St. Nicholas to a position of great esteem. It was in his honor that Russia's oldest church, for example, was built. For its part, the Roman Catholic Church honored Nicholas as one who helped children and the poor. His feast day is December 6.
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As I wrote last year, the custom of giving gifts to loved ones on a special day in winter probably began in ancient Rome where people gave these gifts as part of their year end celebration to honor Saturn, the god of harvest. The festivities began in the middle of December and continued until January 1st. In 350 A.D., Pope Julius I declared December 25 as the official date for celebrating the birth of Christ. Saturnalia was considered a festive time for Romans, but Christians believed it an abomination to honor such a pagan god. Eventually, the Church was successful in removing the merriment, lights and gifts from the Saturnalia and transferring them to the celebration of a Christian Christmas.

It was only natural that Santa bringing gifts and everybody giving gifts would come together at Christmas. While our fondest memories are of our childhood when we opened presents left under the tree by Santa, on Christmas day we bring presents of love to a child, the baby in the manger.

So, do not pout, do not cry, but, come, all ye faithful….come, let us adore Him, joy to the world....

Merry Christmas