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The Gift of Saint Nicholas

This is from today’s Lectionary reading on the saints, by James Kiefer; today is the feast of Saint Nicholas, and in many European countries, little children find their shoes filled with little gold coins (chocolate) or . . . sticks with coal (usually also candy, these days)

The true Saint Nicholas embodied the spirit of anonymous giving – a grace more rarely seen in these days of blogs and twitters and 15 seconds of news coverage.

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(of course I chose this image of Saint Nicholas because of the pomegranates 🙂 )

NICHOLAS OF MYRA

FRIEND OF CHILDREN, GIVER OF GIFTS, CLIMBER OF CHIMNEYS, ETC. (6 DEC 326)

The story of St. Nicholas offers a possible way of dealing with the “Santa Claus” problem, to parents who do not want to lie to their children, even in fun, but do not want to say simply: “Bah, humbug! There is no such thing as Santa. Forget about him.”

Nicholas was a native of the western part of what is now Asiatic Turkey. He became Bishop of Myra in the fourth century, and there are many stories of his love for God and for his neighbor.

The best-known story involves a man with three unmarried daughters, and not enough money to provide them with suitable dowries. This meant that they could not marry, and were likely to end up as prostitutes. Nicholas walked by the man’s house on three successive nights, and each time threw a bag of gold in through a window (or, when the story came to be told in colder climates, down the chimney). Thus, the daughters were saved from a life of shame, and all got married and lived happily ever after.

Because of this and similar stories, Nicholas became a symbol of anonymous gift-giving. Hence, if we give a gift to someone today without saying whom it is from, it can be called “a present from Saint Nicholas (or Santa Claus).” Some parents explain this to their children and invite the child to join them in wrapping a toy (either something purchased for that purpose, at least partly with the child’s allowance, or else a toy that the child has outgrown but that is still serviceable) or an outgrown but not shabby item of the child’s clothing, or a package of food, and then going along to donate it to a suitable shelter that will give it to someone who will welcome it. This gift is then called “a present from Santa,” so that the child understands that this is another name for an anonymous gift given to someone whom we do not know, but whom we love anyway because God does. (Presents within the family can be “From Santa” or “From Santa and…”)

Pictures of Nicholas often show three bags of gold next to him, and often these bags have become simply three disks or balls. Nicholas became the patron of an Italian city (I think Bari, which is where his body is now buried) that was a center of the pawnbroking business, and hence a pawnbroking shop traditionally advertises by displaying three gold balls over its front. It is thought that some persons looking at pictures of Nicholas confused the three round objects with human heads. Hence there is a story of a wicked innkeeper who murdered three boys and salted their bodies to serve to his guests, to save on the butcher’s bill. Nicholas visited the inn and confronted the innkeeper, who confessed his crime, whereupon Nicholas prayed over the brine-tub and the three boys leaped out unharmed. Other stories have him saving the lives of three innocent men who had been condemned to death. Still other stories have him coming to the rescue of drowning sailors (could this be related to the brine-tub incident?). Nicholas has always been popular with children, mariners, pawnbrokers, the Dutch, the Russians, and recently, the department-store owners. (American readers may remember the story of the brine-tub through reading it as children in the book The Dutch Twins, by Lucy Fitch Perkins, author of The Spanish Twins, The Italian Twins, and many similar books, all children’s favorites in the middle of this century. They may now be banned as politically incorrect — I have no idea. If your children know the brine-tub story, from this book or elsewhere, they may be interested to know how it may have originated.)

In many countries, Nicholas visits children on his feast day, 6 December, and brings them gifts then. In these countries, there is usually no exchange of Christmas presents, but there may be gifts again on January 6, the feast of the coming of the Wise Men, who brought gifts to the Holy Child of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. In America, it may be thought necessary to yield to outside pressure and let Nicholas distribute gifts on December 25.

If you want to show your children (or yourself) how Nicholas is remembered by Christians with a background different from your own (unless, of course, this IS your background), you might want to attend an East Orthodox service at this time. Many Eastern Orthodox congregations have services on the evening before 6 December that feature “visits from Saint Nicholas.” He appears as a bishop, with no red suit. The faithful leave their shoes outside the church door, and find in them afterwards gold coins (actually chocolate wrapped in gold foil) representing the gold dowries of the three daughters. To find a service and inquire what it is likely to be like, look up CHURCHES, ORTHODOX in the Yellow Pages. For an English-language service, “Orthodox Church in America” or “Antiochan Orthodox” parishes are likely choices, but do not overlook other possibilities.

We are told, but it is uncertain, that Nicholas was imprisoned for his faith before the accession of Constantine, and that he was present at the Council of Nicea in 325. We may note in passing that the picture of him as roly-poly is a late development. Early stories indicate that he was generous to others, but not given to self-indulgence. Indeed, even as an unweaned infant, he fasted regularly on Wednesdays and Fridays.

by James Kiefer

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December 6, 2012 Posted by | Advent, Charity, Cultural, Faith, Lectionary Readings, Turkey | Leave a comment

The Monarch Caterpiller Ornament

Only a friend can know you so well as to send you a gift like this. When I arrived home from Seattle, this was waiting, and we had to unwrap it right away. When I saw it, I laughed, and ran to show AdventureMan, and we nearly danced for joy, it is so perfect for our tree.

AdventureMan loves butterflies, is creating gardens to attract butterflies, and my sweet Doha friend was looking for a Monarch butterfly ornament, but instead, she found the caterpillar.

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How perfect for Advent! We love the season of expectation, waiting for the birth of this dear little babe who will make all the difference. The caterpillar is the form of the Monarch before it goes into the caccoon and transforms into the Monarch. Perfect for the season of waiting expectantly 🙂

December 6, 2012 Posted by | Advent, Arts & Handicrafts, Cultural, Doha, ExPat Life, Friends & Friendship, Gardens | Leave a comment

Indian Village Bans Cell Phones – For Women

LOL – what about those cheating, eloping MEN? Ban only women from using cell phones? What about calls from mothers who need you to run an errand? What about calls from the children’s school? Women – and man – who are going to cheat are going to cheat, whether or not you take their cell phone away. Found this on AOL/Huffpost via Reuters:

PATNA, India – (Reuters) – A village council in the eastern Indian state of Bihar has banned the use of mobile phones by women, saying the phones were “debasing the social atmosphere” by leading to elopements – a move that set off outraged protests from activists.

In addition to the ban, the Sunderbari village council in a Muslim-dominated area some 385 kilometers (239 miles) east of Patna, the capital of Bihar, has also imposed a fine of 10,000 rupees ($180) if a girl is caught using a mobile phone on the streets.

Married women would have to pay 2,000 rupees ($36.60).

“It always gives us a lot of embarrassment when someone asks who has eloped this time,” said Manuwar Alam, who heads a newly-formed committee tasked with enforcing the ban, referring to queries from neighboring villages.

He said the number of elopements and extramarital love affairs had risen in the past few months, with at least six girls and women fleeing their homes.

“Even married women were deserting their husbands to elope with lovers. That was shameful for us,” Alam said. “So, we decided to tackle it firmly. Mobile phones are debasing the social atmosphere”.

Local officials have begun investigations, saying that such bans cannot be allowed in a healthy society, while women’s rights activists called it an assault on freedom that could potentially end up harming women by stripping them of one source of protection from trouble, such as unwanted advances by men.

“Girls and women are capable enough to protect themselves,” said activist Suman Lal during a debate on local television. “Technology is meant to be used, not to be banned…The order is nauseating.”

Fellow activist Mohammad Islam said it was “disappointing” that the village council ignored the many advantages of mobile phones before placing a ban on them for one reason.

“I want every girl to be given a mobile phone so that she could call up family members if she has a problem”, he said. ($1 = 54.6400 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by New Delhi newsroom, editing by Elaine Lies)

December 6, 2012 Posted by | Communication, Community, Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Generational, India, Living Conditions, Mating Behavior, Relationships, Social Issues, Women's Issues | Leave a comment