Outtakes Around the Lakes: The real spirit of Christmas
For the past few weeks this column has been focusing on what children think when they hear the word, Christmas. I asked the adults to read it to them. As they get older, they'll learn more about the origins of this joyous celebration. Today I'm reminding everyone how this wonderful holiday began.
It's Dec. 25, the day in which we celebrate that special winter festival that's known as Christmas. Whether it's the correct day that's been set aside to observe the birth of a baby more than two thousand years ago, or not, it's the day millions of people observe.
What is known has been handed down, first; by word of mouth, second; by handwriting scribes, and third; by the printing press. The holy Bible that was the first book ever printed and, according to the New Testament Gospel writers, more specifically, Luke and Matthew, it all began more than two thousand years ago with the birth of Jesus. He was born to Mary and Joseph in the little town of Bethlehem, not far from Jerusalem, in what is now the country of Israel.
The Gospel writers tell us that Angels appeared to shepherds who were watching their flocks by night. They write, the Angels had told the shepherds that a Divine Savior, one who was also of human flesh, had been born in a Bethlehem stable to fulfill the prophesies told by the prophets. They invited the shepherds to visit the babe.
About that same time, a brilliant star shining in the heavens was spotted by three wise men in the east. Most scholars believe they originated in what was then a country known as Persia (now Iran). They followed this magnificent star until it came to rest above the stable where the Christ child was born. There they found him lying in a manger and brought him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These are considered by almost every biblical scholar and historian known to have studied this historical event, to be the very first Christmas gifts.
Sometime in the fourth century, a Christian monk known as Nicholas from Myra, which is in present day Turkey, appears in the records. We know very few historical details about his life. Most of what we know is considered to be unverifiable stories. However, for more than a thousand years, both the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox churches have recognized December 6 as the date of his death, even though no one knows for sure what year he died.
So goodhearted was this monk, who later became a bishop, that after he passed away his reputation carried his name into numerous folk legends. He was generous to a fault and wherever he went he helped those in need.
He became the patron saint of sailors after being credited with stopping a violent storm in order to save the crew. He donated three bags of gold to a father for a dowry so his three daughters would not be sold into slavery and eventually prostitution.
As his fame spread, so did his legendary miracles. In the Netherlands he took on the name Sinterklaas. When Dutch settlers came to America's Hudson River Valley, they brought Sinterklaas with them. In Washington Irving's History of New York St. Nicholas became a chubby Dutchman who flew the skies and dropped gifts down chimneys. Later Clement Moore wrote a poem called A Visit From St. Nicholas. In it the Santa character rode a sleigh drawn by eight reindeer. But it was cartoonist Thomas Nast who portrayed St. Nicholas as jolly and suggested that he lived at the North Pole.
Later, in the twentieth century, Coca Cola used that beloved image of which so many of us are familiar, in commercials that it made an indelible mark in our memory.
Over years, that's how St. Nicholas morphed into the character we know today as Santa Claus.
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