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home : features : the bookshelf February 6, 2016


12/25/2013 6:00:00 AM
THE BOOKSHELF: The history of Christmas, continued
Last week, readers found out that in A.D. 280 a child by the name of Nicholas was born who grew up to become Bishop of Myra, now Demre, in Turkey.
Last week, readers found out that in A.D. 280 a child by the name of Nicholas was born who grew up to become Bishop of Myra, now Demre, in Turkey.
Rosita Smith
Palo Verde District Library

Last week, readers found out that in A.D. 280 a child by the name of Nicholas was born who grew up to become Bishop of Myra, now Demre, in Turkey. When Constantine came to power, he established Christianity as the state religion. Nicholas served as bishop under Constantine's rule until his death in A.D. 343. After his death, Nicholas was granted patron sainthood for sailors, Russia, children, students, bankers, pawnbrokers and thieves. As a patron, Saint Nicholas would have become involved in all of his parishioners' activities, especially those of a religious nature.

Holland observes Saint Nicholas' day Dec. 6. The children's saint arrived by steamer in Amsterdam harbor wearing a bishop's robe, miter, white gloves, and a large episcopal ring on his left hand. Seated on a white horse and accompanied by Black Peter who was a dark-skinned faithful servant and partly representing the devil in some aspects, would put lumps of coal in stockings for children who had been bad. A parade to the Royal Palace would be welcomed by the Queen.

When the Protestant reformation came along, it was improper to have anything to do with Catholic saints. In a few countries, St. Nicholas changed his name and kept right on going which is why there is a Father Christmas in England, and Père Noël in France. Germany developed the figure of the Christ Child, who would come with the Pennsylvanian Dutch to America where, by popular mispronunciation, the name developed into Kris Kringle. Holland kept the St Nicholas name. And when the Dutch settled in New Amsterdam in the 17th century they brought St. Nicholas with them. Over time, by mispronunciation, Saint Nicholas became Sinta Cales.

After the American Revolution the Christmas customs of Pennsylvania began to filter out to the general population. Washington Irving wrote fictional stories whereby he had Saint Nicholas riding over treetops and smoking a pipe. Dr. Clement Moore illustrations in A Visit from St. Nicholas showed St. Nicholas in a sleigh drawn by one reindeer. That was the first time that St. Nicholas was shown without a horse. In later versions, St. Nicholas' team grew to eight reindeer with fancy names.

Moore's poem was the inspiration for the final touch in the making of our Santa Clauses of today. Political cartoonist, Tomas Nash, popularized a single image of a jolly old elf and Santa Claus replaced the Saint's name, completing the birth of Santa Claus. Coca-Cola finished the job when they used color on their bottle labels.

If Nicholas the ascetic bishop of the fourth century Asia Minor could see the Santa Claus, of today he would not know who he was. But it is safe bet that he would love him for the joy he brings to others around the world.

The Palo Verde Valley Library is closed Christmas day and the day after. The library reopens Dec. 27.

The library will be closed New Year's Day which leaves a four-day window of opportunity to exchange library books for a new batch.


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