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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Friday, December 21, 2007

You Better Watch Out

So who won the Rockets/Nuggets game that went into double overtime? I managed to get Sister Mary Fiacre to bed and come back for the overtime. When it went into double overtime, it just got too late for me. Remarkable, as I am a night owl. I have always been a night owl. I was asleep at my desk as a child. Getting up at the crack of dawn or before has been a daily sacrifice for me and happy, happy news for the souls in Purgatory.

How about that to have the Boston Celtics flying around in their cheery Christmas greens the day before and to have the Rockets in their Christmas-y road reds last night?

How exceptionally appropriate, as today we're talking about Santa.

But first:

In our local newspaper there was a piece in the religion section by a Protestant about the damned practice of celebrating Christmas and about he never does it because it's so . . . so Papist! People ought to cling to their Protestant roots.

Sheesh! I thought they'd gotten over that ages ago back when the Puritans came over here, banned Christmas celebrations, and discovered that doing so was no fun at all.

(I'm glad I belong to the party Church.)

You and the writer are both a little off base. The Catholic Church was just about last to get on the big Christmas band wagon. We celebrated Christmas as the birth of Christ, but Easter was the big deal, big hats notwithstanding.

The Christmas we know and celebrate came to us through a backlash against the way Christmas was traditionally celebrated. Prior to the Victorian Age, Christmas was a twelve day booze fest. Think St. Patrick's Day in New York for twelve solid days. Servants became masters and masters became servants and masters that didn't become servants were sorry. Treat or trick was the rule of the day....days. Christmas was a problem. The Puritans had really good reasons to banish it.

It was Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" that almost single-handedly turned things around, making a civilized vision of the holiday. The Queen got herself a Christmas tree and Christmas trees became the rage. And that's when the Catholic Church stepped up to the plate to keep Jesus in the Season.

Don't misunderstand. Christmas has been a Holy Day of Obligation since at least the 5th century. But the whole enchilada with a big dinner, a tree, families gathering, presents and stockings and sleigh bells and dreaming of a White Christmas and Bing Crosby...that didn't happen until the Victorian Era when the Christmas season changed from a twelve day binge to a cozy family event.

Which is where Santa Claus comes in! Move over Yao Ming for another large guy in a red suit. Without Santa, Christmas would not be the beautiful holiday for children that it has become.

There was a small holiday for children on St. Nicholas day, Dec 6th. It was celebrated by Germans and Scandinavians and other people who needed a pick me up in the middle of winter. St. Nicholas would bring the good children a treat, left in their shoes or stockings while they slept and the bad children nothing. Or that lump of coal we always hear about. I'm thinking a lump of coal would have been useful (just ask Bob Cratchet), but like getting underwear and socks for Christmas, no fun.

St. Nicholas was a bishop who lived in the 4th century. He was part of the Council of Nicaea from which we received the Nicene Creed. Good work, St. Nick! He was an extremely popular saint. Two stories about his life made him the patron saint of happy surprises for children. One is that he rescued children who had been drowned in a pickle barrel and brought them back to life. The other is that when he found out three young women could not marry because they had no dowrym he lobbed a sack of gold into their windows, anonymously, one each night, to save them from being old maids.

When the little Scandinavian children showed up on Ellis Island talking about
Sinterklaus (Saint Nicholaus), St. Nick had his name changed with everyone else. I imagine he started coming on Christmas because the holidays are so close together anyhow. That and "The Night Before Christmas", where his story unfolds as the jolly old elf with his sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, written in--when else-- the Victorian Era. The poem doesn't say he's fat. Does it? I think it only says he's jolly. Fat people used to be jolly because they were rich people. Now it's the thin people that are rich. The poor people have to eat fattening food with corn syrup added to every single thing.

Which is exactly what happened to Santa. He got fat drinking Coca-Cola. He wasn't fat until he started drinking Coke.

No wait...his belly shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly. Maybe he just needed to do some sit-ups.

We started talking about Santa because of our reader who implied that it was terrible to lie to children about Santa, who doesn't exist. He does exist. He lives in heaven and his name is St. Nicholaus. He is available to intercede for you at the drop of a fur trimmed hat.

He doesn't have a factory on the North Pole, an army of elves, flying reindeer, a wife--he certainly doesn't have one special reindeer with a glowing red nose.

But his story holds the essence of Christmas, a special being who spends 100% of his time thinking of someone else's happiness. Who does that remind you of?

I suppose we could live without fantasy. What a sad drab place our minds might become. King Arthur would have noticed the sword stuck in the stone, shrugged his shoulders and walked away. George Bailey would have fallen to his icy watery death, his family left to languish in scandal. Dorothy Gale would never have learned there's no place like home. She would have just been sucked up by a twister and died.

Santa's herculean efforts to bring each child a gift inspires us to do the same. He helps us to take at least one day and make it magically special. If it's a lie, then we have to stop telling children stories that inspire them. Good-bye Charlotte and your web, stay home Beauty and do your hair instead of meeting the Beast. Get your pens out, biographers and writers of text books, you are going to be busy. Oh how the children will LOVE it.

Children have plenty of time to grow up. They spend most of their childhood in school learning facts. I don't begrudge them a special story that helps make Jesus' birthday as full of love as it is, a story about a special man who embodies the spirit of giving. We tend to do a lot worse for role models.


Anonymous said...

well said Sister

La Bibliotecaria Laura said...

We've enjoyed this site:

In our family, we leave our list out on Saint Nicholas Day--he picks it up and gives it to the Christ Child. Then, it is the Christ Child who decides on the gifts and then on Christmas Eve, Saint Nicholas helps the Christ Child deliver the gifts--since He probably wants to be with Mary and Joseph on this night.

Theologically, it does a lot of good. All good things come from God--Saints have super powers because of God--Saint Nicholas is in heaven...

Merry Christmas, Sister!

Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,

I really want to believe - in you. But how to you manage to be so hopelessly hip, graphically apropos and thoelogically correct, all while dealing with your daily life and taking care of Sr. Mary Fiacre? Also, what happened to your post from December 15th, where you "elfed" yourself (which I have gotten over being freaked out about)....

Shig said...

Ditto, what Devoted said. Merry Christmas.

Shig said...

Oh, and I have a question, Sister. One that has nothing to do with the Latin Mass, pagan holidays or basketball.

Can a Catholic widow join a convent, if her kids are grown and such. If not as a nun, then as the world's oldest novice, maybe? Don't worry, my husband's safe and I don't have a calling. I just wondered if women still did that, like in Medievel times, when they spent their waning years praying and doing good works.

RadioPie said...

Faith is a wonderful thing to have to get us all through the long winter months - whether you find it wrapped in swaddling in a manger or sneaking down your chimney with a sack full of presents.

Anonymous said...

A.I. was only talking about"practice"!
Love your site always insightful and religious teachings with the modern world mixed in. I think i would certainly enjoy conversing with you.
I am a Raptors fan and right now praying for TJ Ford to be healthy.
As mentioned love your site and I will be checking in daily!
Thanks and God Bless!

Anonymous said...

Well Sister I believe in you. I've known a few nuns in my time and you aren't anywhere close to the strangest, no offense meant. I find nuns to be very practical people who adapt well to where ever they land with a simple trust in God's plan for them. Wish I was more like that myself......

Anonymous said...

"The poem doesn't say he's fat. Does it?"

I believe it mentions his belly being like a bowlful of jelly. It's implied that he's fat.

Anonymous said...

Sister -
Thank you for this post. I'm printing it out to keep handy for all the times I've had to answer the "you willingly LIE to your children?!?!"

I enjoy your blog, believe in you, and thank you for reminding me, daily, why I love being Catholic.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless!

La Bibliotecaria Laura said...

TC: I've known a woman in the situation you described above who was a thrid order Carmelite, and joined a Carmelite community as the Extern--so she participated in the daily life with the sisters and served them... it seemed like a real lovely way to spend one's retirement. :)

Alexandra said...

A joyous Christmas to you!

Sir Galen of Bristol said...

We started talking about Santa because of our reader who implied that it was terrible to lie to children about Santa, who doesn't exist. He does exist. He lives in heaven and his name is St. Nicholaus. He is available to intercede for you at the drop of a fur trimmed hat.

He doesn't have a factory on the North Pole, an army of elves, flying reindeer, a wife--he certainly doesn't have one special reindeer with a glowing red nose.

But his story holds the essence of Christmas, a special being who spends 100% of his time thinking of someone else's happiness. Who does that remind you of?

This agrees nicely with something I wrote about two years ago. It's nice to see I got it right.!

Anonymous said...

Dear Sister,
I respectfully have a different take on Santa.
I was incredibly upset to learn that there was no Santa when I was in 3rd grade. I just couldn't believe that the cookies I left out for him were just eaten by my mom and the carrot that I KNEW was given to Rudolph was just chewed on by my dad. My conclusion to all of it was "if my parents lied to me about Santa, what else are they telling me that isn't true?" I really felt as if I could no longer trust them.
I have told my own children this story and have told them that I will never willing lie to them about something. They can believe me when I tell them something. I never want to break trust with them if I can help it.

Just my thoughts......

Bless you Sister - I really enjoy your blog!


Maria said...

Being a Scandianvian myself, I find your story of the Scandianavian Santa a bit off. Santa was never called st.Nicolas in Scandinavia, I belive that was the Netherlands. In Norway, at least, we have something called a 'nisse', and the modern day Santa is a combiantion of St.Nicolas and the Scandinavian 'nisse'. I old Norvegian folklore people believed that every farm had its own 'nisse', a tiny guy who gave prosperity to the farm if treated well. On Christmas Eve he got a bowl of porrige,and if the family failed to give him that he would behave bad for the whole of next year; making the cattle and the familiy sick, for instance. The Norvegian 'nisse' didn't start handing out presents before someone found out that he did so in other countries, but in Sweden they had a 'julebukk' (roughly translates to Chritmas goat) who gave presents to children at Christmas Eve (We do all our celebration on Chrismas Eve in Scandinavia; we eat with our families and open our presents, and do nothing special on the 25th).

Other than that little mistake, I enjoyed your post. Merry Christmas.