Category Archives: Christmas

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

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

Today is the feast of St. Nicholas, the basis for what has become known as Santa Claus. He was born in the third century to a wealthy family in the village of Patara (now located on the southern coast of Turkey). At the time the area was mostly Greek. While he was young, his parents died during an epidemic. Raised as a Christian, he believed in obeying Jesus in giving his inheritance to those in need. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra was still quite young. He earned a reputation for being generous to those in need, his love for children, and concern for sailors and ships.

During the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, Christians were ruthlessly persecuted and Nicholas suffered for his faith by being exiled and imprisoned. Despite all of the hardship he endured, he never wavered in his faith. He was released and attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. He died on 6 December 343 AD in Myra and was buried. The anniversary of his death would become a celebration and still celebrated to this day (it is 19 December on the Julian calendar used by Eastern Orthodox churches).

His generous deeds and miracles attributed to him spread during the Middle Ages. Many sailors claimed him as a patron and told of him when they traveled. Churches dedicated to Nicholas appeared in many seaport cities. His name spread both east and west making him a very popular saint with many churches named after him in Austria, Belgium, England, Italy, Russia, and Switzerland to name a few. His tomb became popular to visit but concerns over wars in the area cutting off access worried many. In 1087 sailors from Bari were able to retrieve his relics and bring them back. A church was built over his crypt so that pilgrims could visit. The shrine to St. Nicholas in Bari became a major pilgrimage center during medieval Europe. People still visit the shrine today at the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari.

The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches all have his feast day on their calendars. His generosity and compassion are seen as a model of Christian life. There is some confusion generated about how saint feasts days are celebrated in the Catholic church. Since there quite a number of saints with feasts, it was decided that some saint feast days would be optional for a diocese to celebrate. Saint Nicholas became one of them. He was not stripped of his sainthood. In a diocese where he is popular, has churches or schools named after him, or perhaps the bishop believes he is model to be held up for veneration, his feast day will be celebrated. His feast day is celebrated throughout Europe and in Russia and children receive gifts on the day. Saint Nicholas’ feast day is usually the start of the Christmas season in Europe and elsewhere.

Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas did not fare well during the Protestant Reformation. Saints, even revered ones, were removed to focus on Jesus. Some went so far as to nearly ban any public display of traditional religious customs related to saints or even Christmas (it was not a holiday for that reason in areas that groups like the Puritans dominated). Martin Luther wanted to shift the focus of Christmas to Jesus. The problem was that you cannot have a baby delivering gifts to children as Saint Nicholas did.  He came up with the Christkind (Christkindl), a children’s gift giver. This angel, depicted as young girl, brings the gifts when the children are not present. In Nuremberg, the Christkind is selected every two years by vote and between the ages of 16-19. The Christkind opens the Christmas market. She also has her picture taken with kids, listens to what they want, visits kids in hospitals and the elderly as well amongst many other duties. The Christkind was also adopted by many German Catholics as well and spread into Latin America as well. In some cases, both the Christkind and Saint Nicholas deliver presents together.

Despite attempts to diminish Saint Nicholas using the Christkind, he remained popular except in England where many Christmas folk traditions were altered (especially under the rule of the Puritans and Oliver Cromwell). Puritans in America (and some others as well) forbade celebrating Christmas. German immigrants brought celebrating Christmas with them along with Saint Nicholas as well. It was believed the Dutch had brought Saint Nicholas to America, but recent scholarship indicates that was not likely (it is not mentioned in letters or records from the Dutch who lived in New Amsterdam at the time). It appears a series of fictional stories about Saint Nicholas (described as a jolly man with a clay piper) being celebrated by the early Dutch may have been the source.

The 19th century was one of change in America regarding Christmas-and elsewhere as well. Since it was not a sacred or public holiday in many places, it was not the time of carols and goodwill we think about today. Instead, it was a was a rowdy holiday where many got wildly drunk, gambled, and got riotous in some cases threatening people. In England, the Father Christmas figure was about adult merriment and feasting and had nothing to do with children. The actual celebration of Christmas seemed to be fading until books were published depicting Christmas as a time for family, children and faith were published in the 19th century. Washington Irving’s The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon (1819) depicted the celebration of Christmas in England as a warm holiday where peasants were invited into the home to celebrate the holiday. And stories about a magical gift giver called Sante Claus began to appear. Books such as The Children’s Friend  (1821)had a character delivering gifts to children on Christmas Eve. Flying a sleigh and living up north, this Sante Claus would form the basis of what is known today as Santa Claus.

Merry Old Santa Claus
Thomas Nast, 1881
Public Domain

The famous Clement Clark Moore poem A Visit from St. Nicholas would further cement the image of this Sante Claus. Books depicting Christmas began to appear and of course the most famous being A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in 1843. This came at a time in Britain when they were re-examining Christmas. This book and others would further help to make Christmas as a time for families, children, and caring about the less fortunate as well. Thomas Nast, the famous political cartoonist, illustrated him as a rotund figure with a beard, fur clothing, and with a clay pipe in 1863. He also changed the name to Santa Claus. His image, with some embellishments and refinements, has remained more or less intact to our time. Christmas was becoming widely celebrated and by 1860 had already been adopted as a state holiday in fourteen states. In 1870, President Grant proclaimed Christmas Day as a federal holiday in the District of Columbia. Congress would pass legislation that made Christmas, New Years, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving as federal holidays (remember back then nearly all federal workers were in the District of Columbia). States would also make it a holiday as well.

By the start of the 1930’s, the American Santa had come full form thanks to various illustrators such as Norman Rockwell. Coca-Cola would use Santa in its advertising further establishing his identity in the commercial world. The jolly man with the red suit would be seen in magazines, billboards, shop counters, and greeting cards. A benign source of happiness and seemingly endorsing all kinds of commercial products, he became as American as apple pie (to coin a phrase). His image would spread out to the world competing with local versions (Father Christmas, Pere Noel, Babbo Natale, Sinter Klass, Julenesse etc.) Saint Nicholas still retains his place in Europe despite this.

Many people, seeing Santa as a commercial and pagan creation, are now reclaiming the saint for use in the holiday. Saint Nicholas brings a spiritual emphasis to the holiday, which Santa does not. Some have tried to ban Santa Claus because of his supposed connection to Saint Nicholas, except there is none. One is a revered saint and bishop, the other a complete concoction of writers, illustrators, and marketing departments. There is nothing Christian about Santa Claus. Movies like The Santa Clause, while entertaining, put him into a world of fantasy beings like Mother Nature, Cupid, and the Tooth Fairy. By returning focus to Saint Nicholas, we get closer to what the celebration is about.

Sources:

Who is St. Nicholas? (St. Nicholas Center)
Federal Holidays: Evolution and Current Practices (Congressional Research Service)
A History of Christmas in America (The Classical Historian)
History of Christmas (History.com)

Today is Second Sunday of Advent

2nd Advent Sunday
Photo: Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna (Wikimedia Commons)

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year for Roman Catholics and many Christian denominations. It encompasses the four weeks (Sundays and weekdays) leading up to Christmas Day. Counting back four Sundays from Christmas Day will get you to the first Sunday of Advent. Depending on the calendar day Christmas falls on, Advent usually begins near the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle celebrated on 30 November. Eastern Orthodox, since it follows the Julian calendar, will start their Advent later as Christmas Day falls 13 days after the current Gregorian calendar.

Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning coming or coming to, is a time of preparation for the birth of Christ and a reminder that Jesus will return. During this period, Christians are reminded not to be weighed down or distracted by the cares of this world. Like Lent, Christians are called to reflect on our actions and seek penance. We also should prepare our hearts for the full joy of Christmas. We should not allow our souls to be burdened with predictions of events yet to come, but to be alert and ready. During this period, Catholic priests wear violet vestments, except on the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) where rose may be worn. Altars will be less decorated than usual during this time as well.

One of the symbols of Advent is the Advent wreath. This wreath has four candles (battery operated ones are acceptable) and are lit for each Sunday in Advent. Usually, a prayer is also spoken while lighting the prayer and often families will do it together. Most candles are purple, but one will either be white or rose for Gaudete Sunday. The popular Advent calendar is to not only marks down the days till Christmas, but also days of devotion during the season. A Christmas novena is also done. The traditional one is the St. Andrew Christmas Novena which begins on 30 November (the feast day of St. Andrew) and runs till Christmas Eve. A nine -day novena begins on December 16 and goes till Christmas Eve. Many Latin American countries celebrate this as Las Posadas, and it is popular in the Philippines as well (called Sambang Gabi).

There is specific music for the Advent season that is often played in Catholic and Christian churches during religious services. Music such as Silent Night, Adeste Fidelis, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing will not be heard until Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. Secular songs such as White Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer are reserved for Christmas concerts (which are sometimes held in churches) are not sung at all during religious services. While Christmas decorations may be outside the church, you will not see Christmas trees in the main area of the church where mass is celebrated. This has nothing to do with any connotation that a Christmas tree is pagan but rather that during Advent we must be solemn in observing it. So, a lighted Christmas tree is often near the entry or just inside the entry (if they have one). This has been the tradition that Saint Pope John Paul II started when he got a Christmas tree from his native country of Poland.

Flowers and wreaths are acceptable near the altar and not on it. Advent wreaths are often placed near the altar and lighted before the service begins. A Christmas crib or nativity scene may also be displayed as well.

 

Fo further Information:

Advent: Dates, Traditions, and History(Infoplease.com)
The Catholic Encyclopedia

First Sunday of Advent

Advent Wreath (1st Sunday)
Photo :Micha L. Rieser(Wikimedia)

Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year for Roman Catholics and many Christian denominations. It encompasses the four weeks (Sundays and weekdays) leading up to Christmas Day. Counting back four Sundays from Christmas Day will get you to the first Sunday of Advent. Depending on the calendar day Christmas falls on, Advent usually begins near the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle celebrated on 30 November. Eastern Orthodox, since it follows the Julian calendar, will start their Advent later as Christmas Day falls 13 days after the current Gregorian calendar.

Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning coming or coming to, is a time of preparation for the birth of Christ and a reminder that Jesus will return. During this period, Christians are reminded not to be weighed down or distracted by the cares of this world. Like Lent, Christians are called to reflect on our actions and seek penance. We also should prepare our hearts for the full joy of Christmas. We should not allow our souls to be burdened with predictions of events yet to come, but to be alert and ready. During this period, Catholic priests wear violet vestments, except on the Third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday) where rose may be worn. Altars will be less decorated than usual during this time as well.

One of the symbols of Advent is the Advent wreath. This wreath has four candles (battery operated ones are acceptable) and are lit for each Sunday in Advent. Usually, a prayer is also spoken while lighting the prayer and often families will do it together. Most candles are purple, but one will either be white or rose for Gaudete Sunday. The popular Advent calendar is to not only marks down the days till Christmas, but also days of devotion during the season. A Christmas novena is also done. The traditional one is the St. Andrew Christmas Novena which begins on 30 November (the feast day of St. Andrew) and runs till Christmas Eve. A nine -day novena begins on December 16 and goes till Christmas Eve. Many Latin American countries celebrate this as Las Posadas, and it is popular in the Philippines as well (called Sambang Gabi).

There is specific music for the Advent season that is often played in Catholic and Christian churches during religious services. Music such as Silent Night, Adeste Fidelis, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing will not be heard until Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. Secular songs such as White Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer are reserved for Christmas concerts (which are sometimes held in churches) are not sung at all during religious services. While Christmas decorations may be outside the church, you will not see Christmas trees in the main area of the church where mass is celebrated. This has nothing to do with any connotation that a Christmas tree is pagan but rather that during Advent we must be solemn in observing it. So, a lighted Christmas tree is often near the entry or just inside the entry (if they have one). This has been the tradition that Saint Pope John Paul II started when he got a Christmas tree from his native country of Poland.

Flowers and wreaths are acceptable near the altar and not on it. Advent wreaths are often placed near the altar and lighted before the service begins. A Christmas crib or nativity scene may also be displayed as well.

Fo further Information:

Advent: Dates, Traditions, and History(Infoplease.com)
The Catholic Encyclopedia

Today is Epiphany/Three Kings Day(Actual)

Adoración de los Reyes Magos
El Greco (1541–1614)
Public Domain

Epiphany or Three Kings Day is celebrated on January 6 by most Western Christian denominations. It is the day set aside to celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem and the presentation of their gifts to Jesus. The Catholic Church decided to move its observance to the Sunday after Christmas so people would not have to take off work to attend mass.  In 2021, since Christmas fell on a Saturday, it was celebrated the next day. However the traditional Twelve.Days of Christmas are still in play.

Twelfth Day observances vary by country and some celebrate it on the evening before. Usually there are special celebrations involving foods and special cakes. If a Christmas log was lit for the season, it is now extinguished. King cake (a traditional part of the feast) is almost always present. Children often get gifts of candy or other things from the Wise Men. In Italy, the Christmas Witch La Belfana delivers  gifts on Epiphany Eve to stockings children put up before bed. They awake to the delight of treats in the stockings. In Spain, it is celebrated as Dia de los Reyes (Three Kings’ Day) where families gather to celebrate the day.

One good way to celebrate it with the family is to gather before the  nativity to remember what the holiday is all about. Christmas music should be played and a nice midday meal served. Then taking down the Christmas tree can be done together. The nativity scene can remain up until the Baptism of the Lord (Jan 9 this year) which ends the Christmas season.

 

Remembering the Children Killed by King Herod

Massacre of the Innocents
Matteo di Giovanni (1435–1495)
Public Domain

The Feast of the Holy Innocents or Innocent’s Day is to remember the slaughter of male children 2 years and younger in Bethlehem and in its vicinity by Herod the Great. The story as related in the Gospel of Matthew (2:16-18). Herod was angered when the Wise Men did not return to him after locating the Messiah. No one can say with certainty how many were killed. Some have doubted it happened at all, but it would be consistent with Herod the Great’s personality. He had no problems executing even members of his family if he thought they were betraying him. And since Bethlehem was a small area, the slaughter may not have been widely noticed.

Nearly all the Christian churches observe the feast day though not on the same day. The Catholic Church and most western churches observe it on December 28 but Eastern Orthodox celebrates on December 29. The slain children are treated as martyrs of the church. It is not certain when it was first observed. While the exact date of the deaths is unknown, it is kept in the octave of Christmas as it followed the birth of Jesus. However, it is believed it took place sometime after Jesus’s birth. Matthew says the Wise Men saw the child with his mother indicating he was no longer a baby. And Herod had learned from the Wise Men the approximate date of the birth.

Sources:

Feast of Holy Family (26 Dec 2021)

 

The Flight into Egypt (Albrecht Dürer 1471-1528)
Photo: Public Domain

 

Scripture tells us little or nothing at all about the early years of Jesus. We know they had to flee to Egypt when God warned Joseph about Herod’s order to kill all males 2 years old or younger. We know they returned to Nazareth and what happened when Jesus was left behind in Jerusalem. Yet there is something important that is passed over in our hurry to get to Jesus’ ministry. The Holy Family-Mary, Joseph and Jesus-are important symbols about the family. You have two loving parents devoted to raising their son and obeying God by raising him in their faith. Their love and respect for one another, God, and Jesus are important components of what God wants the family to be. Towards the end of the 19thcentury, Pope Leo XII (as did other popes) became concerned that the concept of the family was being diluted and in danger. So, he introduced the Feast of the Holy Family to venerate them as a model for Christian families in 1893 and set it originally on the Sunday after the Epiphany. This was changed in 1969 when it was moved to the first Sunday after Christmas to make it part of the Christmas season.

However in 2021, since Christmas Day falls on a Saturday, it will be celebrated on Sunday, 26 December. Normally this would be the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, but it has been bumped off the liturgical calendar for Catholics and other Christian denominations. In countries where it is a public holiday, it will be celebrated on Monday. Boxing Day in the UK (and other countries that observe it) will take place according to the local calendar (the UK celebrates it as a bank holiday on 28 Dec 21).

Sources:
Britannica.com
Catholic Culture
Churchyear.net
Teaching Catholic Kids

Merry Christmas

Titanic News Channel wishes everyone a blessed and joyous Christmas season.

 

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

….And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!” (Dickens, A Christmas Carol)

 

Christmas Eve: Silent Night

Silent Night (Stille Nacht in German, Silens Nox in Latin) is perhaps the most beloved Christmas Carol. It was composed in 1818 by Franz Guber, an organist and schoolmaster, to lyrics by Father Joseph Mohr of the St. Nicholas parish in Oberndorf bei Salzburg, Austria. It was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 and since the organ was broken, the only musical accompaniment was the guitar. The popularity of the song spread and the version commonly used today comes from a translation in 1859. John Freeman Young, serving as an Episcopal priest at Trinity Church in New York City, translated and changed the tempo of the song. The original rendition by Gruber was more like a dance tune and sung faster. Young made into a slower lullaby style that is the most common version today. Because it has been so widely translated, it is the one Christmas carol that is known worldwide.

In Austria, Silent Night is not heard until Christmas Eve, usually around 9 p.m. Then it is played on the radio once an hour and of course during church services.  Enjoy this wonderful carol. Merry Christmas!

 

A Visit From St.Nicholas

 

Image:public domain

A Visit from St. Nicholas
BY CLEMENT CLARKE MOORE

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”