Category Archives: Religion

Today is the Feast of St.Nicholas:The Real Santa Claus

St. Nicholas by Jaroslav Cermak (1831-1878)
Public Domain

St. Nick is often used as another name for Santa Claus but in truth Nicholas is the original. Born in the third century a.d., Nicholas became well known for his charity to children and others. He was imprisoned by the Romans and beaten. He never renounced his faith. Later when released when Constantine became emperor, he continued his life serving God and his faith. He lived to be a very old man dying on 6 December 343. Stories of his charity to children and others spread and long after his death people still revered him with churches built in his name. Stories of miracles attributed to him emerged as well.

The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran churches all have his feast day on their calendars (those using the Julian calendar celebrate it on 19  St_ NicholasDecember). The Roman Catholic Church did not strip him of being a saint. Until 1968, every saint had a feast day that had to be celebrated in every diocese. What they did was make certain feast days optional and allow each diocese to decide whether to celebrate it or not. St. Nicholas is an optional feast day so it is up to the diocese to decide.

Stories of a mythical gift giver (often from pagan beliefs like forest elves that leave presents for nice kids) became popular in many European countries and were imported to the U.S. Various aspects from German, Dutch, and English were blended to create the character–the commercial character–of Santa Claus. There is no connection between St. Nicholas and the modern day character that lives in the North Pole, has flying reindeer, and elves to make toys. Santa Claus is a purely secular and even by some standards a pagan creation with no connection to St.Nicholas or Christianity. Remember that when someone says Santa Claus ought to be banned because is based on a religious figure.

For further information about St.Nicholas, go to Saint Nicholas Center.

By the way, there is a resurgence in celebrating the feast day. Usually children get treats (in stockings or boots) and often kicks off the Christmas season.

So what do you think– Santa Claus or St. Nicholas?

Today is All Souls Day

Day of The Dead by William Bouguereau (1825-1905) Public Domain
Day of The Dead by William Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Public Domain

All Souls’ Day is to commemorate the faithful dead and is celebrated by special mass by Catholics and other Christian denominations. Some Christian churches celebrate it on a different day. It is not to be confused with Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) which does remember friends and family who have died but is not a Catholic or Christian religious event(though it takes place from 31 Oct through 2 Nov which coincides with Halloween, All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day).

Today is All Saints Day

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24) Public Domain
The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs (about 1423-24)
Public Domain

All Saints’ Day(Solemnity of All Saints,All Hallows, Hallowmas or All Saints)is celebrated on 1 November by most Western Christians and is to honor all saints known and unknown. In some Catholic countries, it is a holiday. It is a holy day of obligation for most Catholics except when it falls on a Saturday or Monday. In that case it is celebrated on Sunday. Eastern Orthodox is celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost and is called All Saints’ Sunday.


Today is Good Friday

Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri(1821-1891) Public Domain
Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri(1821-1891)
Public Domain

Today is Good Friday, an important event in the Christian liturgical calendar. Some argue the word Good is a corruption and used to mean God Friday. Others argue it always meant that the day is meant to be pious or holy. For Christians, Good Friday is the day Jesus was crucified on the cross. Observant Christians will mark the day by silent meditation, prayer, and church attendance. Many will fast during the day, particularly during the hours of 12 noon to 3 p.m. Hot Cross Buns are a traditional food many cultures use on this day (and through the Easter season). Most Catholics and Christians will avoid eating meat on this day and usually the main meal will be fish. Good Friday (and sometimes Easter Monday)are public holidays in many countries. Good Friday always occurs on the Friday before Easter Sunday.

Passover Begins Today At Sundown

Passover is an eight day festival celebrated in the spring between the 15th through 22 during the Hebrew month of Nissan. Passover commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt. The first two and last two days are considered holidays. On those days holiday meals are served and observant Jews do not work or drive on those days (they also cannot write and even switch on/off electric devices though exception is made for cooking and carrying food outdoors.) The middle four days are called intermediate days and most forms of work are permitted.

A very important way Jews recall the Exodus is that they cannot eat or have an form of leavened bread (and that includes any food or drink that contains wheat, barley, oats, spelt or derivatives of it). That includes a lot of foods from breads, pastas, cookies and cakes, alcohol and soda. Most processed or industrial made foods are thus not allowed unless they have been certified for Passover by a rabbinical authority. It is not uncommon to see certain sodas in heavy Jewish areas reconfigured for the Passover season (such as Coke using real sugar and nothing that is derived from leavened bread in its making).

Seder table
Image: Gilabrand at en.wikipedia

The most important part of Passover is the Seder. It is a fifteen step tradition that is family oriented and packed with rituals for the feast. The most important points of the Seder are eating matzah, bitter herbs(to commemorate the slavery under the Egyptians),drinking wine or grape juice to commemorate their freedom, and most importantly reciting from the Haggadah. The Haggadah is the liturgy of the Exodus from Egypt and the duty of every family to recite the story so the next generation never forgets what Passover means to them.

The Israelites Leaving Egypt, 1828/1830 by David Roberts (1796-1864) Public Domain(Wikipedia)
The Israelites Leaving Egypt, 1828/1830 by David Roberts (1796-1864)
Public Domain(Wikipedia)

Today is Eastern Orthodox Christmas Day

Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day usually on or about January 7 each year.  This is due to the fact that Eastern Orthodox follows the Julian calendar rather than Gregorian for liturgical feasts and occasions such as Christmas. So the date on the Julian calendar is December 25 but there is a 13 day difference so on the Gregorian or Western calendar it is January 7.

It is called the Gregorian calendar as Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed it in a Papal Bull in 1582. It was adopted by most Catholic countries but others did not use it right away (some for religious reasons since they were Protestant) and took over 300 years to be fully implemented. Great Britain did not formally adopt it till 1752.  Russia adopted it in 1918, Greece in 1923 and Turkey in 1926. The reason for the change was the Julian calendar was not very accurate and had to many leap years. Because of this it would fall out of sync  with fixed dates for astronomical events like equinoxes and solstices.

Eastern Orthodox Christians has over 250 million believers in Eastern Europe, Greece, the Caucasus, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and United States. Except in countries that are predominately Eastern Orthodox, it is not celebrated as a public holiday.

The Adoration of the Shepherds (Gerard van Honthorst 1590–1656)
Image: Public Domain (Wikipedia)