S T. MELLA
As the story goes, Jolly ol ‘Saint Nicholas was a royal type from Myra in the country of Turkey. He was a 4th century bishop who became famous when he heard the story of three Italian maidens whose families had been through difficult times. Her father could not afford to have the three of them marry, so he was considering selling one of the daughters as a slave to pay for the weddings of the other two. Well, as you can imagine, it’s a bad deal for anyone and St. Nick decided to help the family. One night he sneaked on their roof and secretly threw three bags of gold down the chimney. With his gift the three daughters were able to marry and his generosity became famous. He became the patron saint of children, orphans, sailors, students, moneylenders, thieves, and the countries of Russia and Greece.
SANTA HAS A BRAND NEW BAG
Over time the legend of Saint Nicholas grew and the Feast of Saint Nicholas was celebrated on December 6, the day of his death. The eternal retirement of Saint Nicholas as Santa Claus evolved over several centuries as the legend of Saint Nicholas was carried over to neighboring countries. Dutch and German settlers brought the basic ideas of what would become Santa Claus to the New World. The Dutch had Sinterklaas and the Germans had Pelsnickel and Christkindl and they both celebrated the feast of Saint Nicholas. The idea of good and bad seems to come from Pelsnickel and would bring rewards to the good and punishment to the wicked. The Dutch version of Santa lived in Spain, riding a white horse, and traveling with six to eight black men who helped him deliver gifts. Over the centuries this slowly changed to much more politically correct characters. The men became Telatubby-type rainbow-colored helpers. This was combined with the Scandinavian Christmas tradition of gifting the elves and voila, Santa now had a legion of toy building elves to bring joy to the world.
The modern version of Santa Claus quickly took shape with American writers during the Christmas season.
In 1808, Washington Irving created the idea of a pipe-smoking Santa Claus in a wide-brimmed hat riding through the treetops in a horse-drawn cart dropping gifts down the chimneys to all of his favorite children.
In 1822, Dr. Clement Clark Moore left the most lasting impression of the jolly old man with his story, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” better known as “The Night Before Christmas.” He established that Santa lived in the Arctic with a flying sleigh pulled by eight reindeer. He described Santa Claus as having “a broad face and a small round belly, which trembled when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.”
Thomas Nast illustrated the covers of Harper’s Weekly in the late 1800s and, at the request of President Lincoln, was commissioned to create a special Christmas image for the cover. This started an annual tradition for Nast, who took the opportunity to mold Santa to his liking. Nast created the standard Santa suit, his home at the North Pole, and the image of him pouring over a list of naughty or nice.
In 1850, Nast’s new version of Santa began to appear in American department stores. The image of Santa evolved with each new Christmas season. The modern image of Santa was firmly solidified by artist Haddon Sundblom in 1931, when he created an annual Santa campaign for Coca-Cola.
In 1939, Robert May, a publicist for Montgomery Ward department store, created the marketing idea for Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer. Montgomery Ward distributed 2.4 million copies of the story booklet in its first year of publication. May had suffered considerable financial hardship, his wife had died of a terminal illness, and in 1947 the department store transferred Rudolph’s copyright to him. Soon after, May’s brother-in-law wrote the lyrics to the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Gene Autry was the first to record the song in 1949 and it became the second best-selling song of all time, second only to ‘White Christmas’. Rudolph’s famous Christmas special was created in 1964 and remains a classic to this day.
WE THREE KINGS
Gold, frankincense and myrrh, precious metals and rubber resins, that is what the Magi brought to the baby Jesus on his birthday. These were rare and special gifts, things you normally couldn’t get, especially if you were a baby, even if your dad was the creator of the known universe. Everybody knows what gold is and I guess the guy who brought it in was the town’s favorite, so what about frankincense and myrrh? Frankincense is the hardened sap of the Boswelia tree. Myrrh is also hardened tree sap from the Miphora family of trees. Both are used as incense and are commonly found in the country of Somalia.
An interesting note, nothing in the Bible says how many wise men showed up with gifts. Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar are commonly known by the names of the sages, but these names also do not appear in the Bible. The number three refers to the three types of gifts presented. Furthermore, the wise men riding camels or being kings are not mentioned. There is more evidence that the men appeared sometime after the actual birth, as the source information says in Matthew 2:11, “And when they entered the house, they say that the little boy with Mary his mother, and he fell , and I adored him… “Hmmm, it seems that at that time Mary had a home and Jesus a small child, rather than a baby in a stable.
The original idea for the stocking stuffing came from children leaving carrots and turnips in their shoes for Santa’s horse or donkey, long before it was known that he had reindeer. Santa Claus would gratefully take the snacks instead and replace them with treats for the kids.
The red and white striped Christmas pacifier has been around for several centuries. Parents have long given their children white sugar sticks to shut up, and then in the 1670s a German choir worker bent the sticks to look like a shepherd’s cane. With its somewhat sacred interpretation, as Jesus was the Good Shepherd, and the convenient hook shape to hang on the branches of the trees, the sweets became the favorite decoration of the Christmas tree. When turned upside down, the hook is a large “J”, an appropriate symbol for Big J.
Over time, the candy took on its minty flavor and familiar stripes. Peppermint is similar to hyssop, which was used for ancient rituals of purification and sacrifice. The traditional candy cane has three small red stripes and one large one. The most common interpretation says that the three little ones represent the Holy Trinity and the biggest one reminds us of God. Other versions claim that the three small stripes represent our own sins, while the largest symbolizes the Passion of Christ. Green is the color of giving and sometimes a green stripe is added to represent that Jesus is God’s gift to us.
By definition, mistletoe is an evergreen aerial parasitic plant that has no roots of its own and lives off the tree to which it attaches itself. It doesn’t sound that romantic, does it?
Well, centuries ago, mistletoe was respected by the Druids as a sacred plant with spiritual and medicinal healing qualities. Much fanfare was invested in harvesting the plant and they used a special gold dagger to harvest it. A Norse myth tells the story of a Balder, the god of light, who was shot down by an arrow made by hand from a mistletoe branch. The earth and the sky wept for his death and for three days each element tried in vain to bring Balder back to life. It was his mother, Frigga, who restored but not before her fallen tears turned into the white berries of the mistletoe. From then on he decreed that no harm would fall to anyone under the mistletoe and that they would receive only a kiss of love.
O ‘CHRISTMAS TREE
In the 4th century AD, the Roman Church decided that Christmas should be officially celebrated on December 25. By doing this, some of the pagan customs of the Roman Saturnalia were absorbed, as they were celebrated at that same time of year. During Saturnalia, people celebrated, exchanged gifts, and decorated their homes with lamps and evergreen shrubs. Food and gifts were fine for the Church, but evergreen things were too pagan for them, as it was forbidden. For centuries the battle for festive home decor raged. In the 16th century, John Calvin outlawed the observance of Christmas and Easter and in 1659 it was illegal in Massachusetts to celebrate Christmas anywhere other than the church. It was not fully accepted until the mid-19th century by Prince Albert of England, which allowed Christmas and Christmas tree home decoration to be fully accepted.
Today it is customary for almost everyone to have a Christmas tree in their homes, regardless of their strong religious affiliations. 2004 marks the 72nd annual lighting of the Rockefeller Christmas tree.
The annual Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is usually a Norway spruce. They generally have a lifespan of 80-110 years and grow about one foot per year. Desired dimensions are a minimum of 65 feet tall and 35 feet wide. 75 to 100 feet tall are preferred. The trees are located in the northeastern part of the United States. It takes two minutes to cut it down as it takes 20 people and a 280 ton hydraulic all terrain crane to handle the tree. Once in place, it is transported via custom telescopic flatbed truck to New York City.
After centuries of repression, Christmas became a legal holiday in 1859 in the state of Massachusetts. The rest of the United States soon followed and, in 1882, Thomas Edison came up with the idea for electric Christmas lights. By 1912, outdoor Christmas tree lights had become common in Boston. After the First World War, the lights were turned on in Europe and by the middle of the 20th century, they had become widespread and were a well-established part of the Christmas cheer. These days it is the inciting moment that marks the Christmas season with the sight of the first Christmas lights of the year.
Here’s the scene, a Nativity reenactment starring Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant and Graham Norton as shepherds, David and Victoria Beckham as Joseph and Mary, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the Duke of Edinburgh and President George W Bush as the Three Wise Men, Kyle Minogue as the Angel and JC playing himself as a baby. It’s not a movie, but this year’s Madame Tussaud’s Celebrity Nativity Scene is now on display in London. We’ll let you find out what’s wrong with that image.