Before There Was Santa

The excitement of Christmas is right around the corner. Shoppers fill the malls while jolly men dressed in red suits with a white beard chuckle, “Ho Ho Ho,” to the smiling children. Oh, there’s nothing better than good cheer this time of the year!

Santa Claus, a commercialized entity in the United States, was a mere Coca-Cola sketch in 1931, which grew into a life of its own. But, before there was Santa, the true patron saint of children, St. Nicholas, filled the shoes (quite literally). Yes, this is the true story that links the roots of Santa Claus and a man named Nicholas.

Nicholas was born about 280 A.D. in the village of Patara on the southwest coast of Turkey. A devout Christian, he was left with a large inheritance when his wealthy parents died in an epidemic. He gave all of his money to the needy, sick, and those in distress. A servant of God, they blessed him with the title of Bishop Nicholas at a young age. His heart, though, remained with children.

One would not think such an honorable man (and the first Santa) could be a victim of Christian persecution, but this event tells us otherwise. In 325 A.D., Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea meeting, and the fundamentals of Christian faith was the topic of discussion. He challenged a lecturer, named Arius, on the beliefs of Orthodox Christianity. An argument ensued, and Nicholas slapped Arius in front of the Roman Emperor Constantine. The Council put Nicholas in chains, stripped him of his leadership position, and jailed him for assault.

Nicholas prayed for forgiveness and humility. He hoped God would forgive him. A recall of the story claims the Lord visited him in prison one night, removed his chains, and returned his garments. The next morning, prison guards discovered him praying and dressed in his bishop attire. The Emperor received word of the mysterious event and ordered Nicholas to be released – it was divine intervention. Nicholas rejoined the Council of Nicea and helped to create the Orthodox Christian religion as we know it today.

Many stories are told of Nicholas’ good deeds through the centuries, and they portray him as a gift-giver. But how did he receive this name? The following incident forever links him to Christmas stockings…

A poor man had three daughters whom he wanted to marry off to prospective husbands. In those days, however, a woman’s father offered a dowry for marriage. The larger the payment, the better the chance of finding a husband. Having no money, he knew his daughters would soon be sold into slavery.

Nicholas learned of the family’s harrowing story. On three different occasions, bags of gold balls were tossed through an open window of the poor man’s house, and they landed inside the stockings and shoes, drying near a fire. Today, three gold balls are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. Do you recognize the connection to Christmas stockings?

You may also ask how St. Nicholas was linked to Christmas, so I will tell you. After his death in 343 A.D., many miracles involving children occurred, and they were all contributed to St. Nicholas. Small gifts and candy silently appeared for poor children on the holiday celebration, Feast of St. Nicholas, which is celebrated on December 5 and/or 6. Are the stories true? I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Most European countries still celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas today. It is a day about giving and recognizing those who contribute to society. Good children receive treats or small gifts in their shoes. The Europeans teach us that to celebrate Christmas, large amounts of gifts unnecessary – keep it simple to retain the real reason for the season.

Over the centuries, St. Nicholas transformed into another similar figure called Santa Claus. Known as Sinterklaas in Holland, their customs entered the United States and the fat man in a red suit, was soon born. But, let us not forget the roots of St. Nicholas, who came before there was Santa. Compassion, charity, and giving the greatest gift of all – himself – took center stage. This should be the image of Christmas!


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Sign a pact

I will not sign a pact
With fear,
I have already signed one
With courage;
I will not sign a pact
With doubt,
I have already signed one
With faith;
I will not sign a pact
With failure
I have already signed one
With success;
I will not sign a pact
With sluggishness;
I have already signed one
With smartness;
I will not sign a pact
With negativity;
I hgve already signed one
With positivity.

Picking up signs

Every time you see
Pick-up signs
Staring at you
After you have been
Rolling down the hill,
Give thanks to God
And push on;
Don’t relent
In your effort,
To reach
The point of victory;
Where the golden crown
Glimmers,
Waiting for a brave winner.
If you relent,
You may start
The downward journey again;
Focus always
On the prize;
That is the secret ol
Of the win;
Keep journeying to it;
Till you carry it home.
The more pick up signs
You see,
The better for you.
The journey is never easy;
Stay positve,
Whatever happens;
Let it never leave
Your mind
That no night lasts
For ever.
Night comes, night goes;
Same like
No matter how bright
The day may be,
It cannot last for ever.
The trick is
Always keep hope alive.
And welcome
Every pick up sign.

Creating Creches

Last Christmas, my wife and I attended the largest private showing of manger scenes in the world. Made of every substance possible, I was in awe of their delicate beauty. I immediately knew we would have to collect nativity sets – I was hooked! The inspiring creches represented almost every country in the world, and every cost range too.

Nativities from all over the world – images owned by Bicks Books LLC

So, this year, as we began gathering topics for the Christmas blogs, I remembered the local church’s display of nativities. Detoured from my train of thought, I began searching the internet for sets made in Bethlehem. I couldn’t believe the splendor of these handmade creches of biblical olive trees. With my mind really ambling now, I wondered how long ago people made the sets, which signifies Jesus’ birth, thus today’s Christmas blog.

It surprised me to learn Saint Francis of Assisi, in 1223, created the first nativity scene in the town of Greccio, Italy.  He wanted to make an extraordinary experience for people who attended Mass at Christmas, and others who visited the area. But, his scene differed from those we purchase on the internet because he brought it to life!

Saint Francis of Assisi

Inspired by a recent trip to the Holy Land, he set up the Christmas scene in a cave just outside of town. It featured a wax figure of the baby Jesus, costumed people playing Mary and Joseph, a live donkey and ox, which a friend loaned St. Francis.

During the Mass, Francis told the Christmas story, then delivered a sermon. Afterward, many people strolled to the cave to watch a live enactment of the sacred event. He told the story of Mary and Joseph with tears and piety, and people responded with joy. His first manger scene became so popular that others soon followed his lead.

With time nativity sets evolved into an artisan craft. Today, the oldest set remains in Italy. Constructed in 1289, out of marble, it is attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio. He was an Italian architect and sculptor whose most famous work was the bronze statue of St. Peter now placed at St. Peters Basilica.

Creche sets of the 1300s were made of marble, wood, or terracotta. They placed most of them in chapels and churches for year-round displays. The most famous of these was a set carved in wood, in 1330, for the Poor Clare Sisters at the Convent of Saint Clare in Naples, Italy.

As Christianity progressed, Martin Luther used these holy scenes to counteract the pagan beliefs of Christmas trees. The creches became front and center of holiday celebrations for Christians.

Today, the tiny town of Bethlehem, in Connecticut, boasts a restored 300-year-old handcrafted nativity scene displayed in a barn on the grounds of a monastery. Thousands of people stream through the doors to view one of the country’s most exquisite artworks, dubbed the Rembrandt of creches. A coronation gift to the King of Sardinia in 1720, this masterpiece sits in a 15 by 10-foot area. The sixty-eight terracotta figures adorn colorful silks with gold embroidery. The creche is a lasting impression, for all walks of life are represented throughout the artwork. This must go on my bucket list!

Image owned by Robert Fenton Houser

Creating creches, whether in a live show or by the loving hands of true workmanship, will always remain the resounding reason for the season. They are a simple reminder of the humble King who would grow up to sacrifice His life on a cross for sinners. Let us never forget the gift of Jesus coming to earth to offer salvation to all people.

Be blessed!

www.danabicksauthor.com

The Carols Heralding

Many enjoy our words of faith and enduring inspiration; however, not all of my life is colorful as the fall. But, this is not about those I’ve turned over to God in prayer, but the joyful ending of God’s faithfulness. The holiday season is fast approaching, and I won’t focus on the ugly parts of life, but the joy of Thanksgiving.

Thanks be to God ~ the carols heralding!

Living in a state of humility and reverence, I find myself so thankful for answered prayers. The summer winds turned to the north, and the foliage of forests turned harvest colors. It’s time to lie down arms, repent, and comfort those we might forget this past year.

Thanks be to God ~ the carols heralding!

Yes, it’s time to rejoice! Give praise to our almighty Father for our many Thanksgiving blessings. Join hands to commemorate the peace and love we’ve found in each other. It’s not just the pilgrims landing anymore. Our sovereignty, through God, our Father, blessed the table we partake this past year.

Thanks be to God ~ the carols heralding!

I so often return to the words my wise dad spoke, “count your blessings, not your problems.” I welcome you to share this thought on Thanksgiving. Lay aside the differences, if only for one day, and thank God for your life. Count your many blessings and be thankful. We fill every day with memorable moments.

Thanks be to God ~ the carols heralding!

As for my family and I, this year’s Thanksgiving Day holds a significant meaning. It falls on the twenty-eighth, which was my Dad’s birthday, and I commemorate him in heaven. It was also my parent’s wedding anniversary. Married in 1958, I bet they picked this day so my dad would never forget their anniversary. Only one person knows their story for sure, and he’ll never tell… or will you, Uncle Bill?

Thanks be to God ~ the carols heralding!


Be sure to join us again on Sunday, December 1 for the ongoing “Everything Christmas Blogs”

Welcome my success

Warm welcome to you, success.
You have come
Sooner than expected;
I never could have imagined,
You were right
At the corner, waging your tail,
Like a faithful dog;
Not further away from me
Than my eyes from each other;
What a joy to know!
Soon, you will enter the house;
You will be home;
And you will be mine;
Never more to part from me.
Welcome home, my success.

Born in poverty

I know someone so well,
Who was born in poverty;
In a little
Poor village,
And there, he lived;
His were poor parents;
Who hardly made
Both ends meet;
Often, he went
A begging to survive;
Lived a life
Of struggle and pain;
Hunger and starvation;
From hand to mouth;
A life of no hope;
Of total despair;
But skip 25 years,
And see him
Calling the shots;
Had a miracle happened?
Call it that if you like;
But it so often happens;
People leaving from mud
To ivory towers;
From villages
To cities;
Determination, the key;
Together with belief in self,
And faith in an Almighty God
Ever ready
To stand by those who
Put their trust in him.
Yes, to.leave from poverty
To prosperity
Is a reality of life.
You may be down today
And up tomorrow;
Nobody today,
And somebody tomorrow;
Weak today, powerful tomorrow.
Never dismiss anyone,
Or yourself
Because the future is bleak;
After rainfall and bad weather,
There is good weather;
The rainy season is always followed by.the dry;
When the sun overheats the grass, it becomes,
But the rain soon comes,
And new grass grows.
And so my poor village boy,
Nothing is lost;
You could end better
Than those born in ivory towers.

An Acceptable Christogram

Three weeks before Christmas, I can remember the annual ritual of watching my mother write her holiday cards to friends and family members. She’d sign our name and below that she wrote, “Merry Xmas.” One year, I asked her what “Xmas” was, and she told me it was short for Christmas. She used to mail about 60 cards, so I could understand why she shortened it – I’d have writer’s cramp too!

I grew up seeing both written versions of this holiday name and never thought twice of any Christian implications; after all, my mother was a devout worshipper of God. But, this Christogram (an abbreviation for Jesus Christ) became a secular upheaval called the “War on Christmas.”

Many Christians take great offense to the use of the Greek word “Xmas” instead of Christmas, for they feel it takes Christ out of Christmas. Some call it blasphemous and disrespectful to the Lord, making Him anonymous. Modern etiquette discourages using the word as an abbreviation in formal writing. Style guides for some publications such as The New York Times, discourage using Xmas unless writing space is limited.

Well, a surprise to all Christians – “Xmas” has impeccable credentials! The “X” in this Christogram  represents the Greek letter ‘Chi’ which is the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Christos. The English translation for Chi is “X,” and it represents the Messiah. Xmas’s second half, “mas,” means mass; thus, the whole word means Christ’s Mass. In Hebrew, Jehovah also has an abbreviation.

The Christogram, Xmas, has been abbreviated for at least 1,000 years. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reveals “Christ” written as “Xp” or “Xt” as far back as 1021. So, how did this word become so prevalent in today’s times? I think we have the world of advertising to thank for this transition as Xmas fits perfectly in the narrowest of leaflets or shop windows. And it’s no coincidence the “X” looks similar to the cross. I think it is acceptable for Christians to write “Xmas” on their Christmas cards or social media sites. If faced with objections, explain why their criticism is unfounded, according to Christianity. Blaming the secularization of a religious holiday on the misconception of “Xmas,” reflects a misunderstanding of our history and language, don’t you agree?


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