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December 6, 2013

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Page 4 POST-GAZETTE, DECEMBER 6, 2013 Jolly Old St. Nicholas by Ally Di Censo Symynkywicz This time of the year, it ing the winter solstice, the the saint -- for her, St. 't_ //: would be an immensely white-bearded Odin suppos- Nicholas serves as a mani- /_ j/f difficult endeavor to try and edly led a Wild Hunt across festation of her good memo- by Sal Giarratani avoid the holiday decora- tions that line doorways and shop windows. Green wreaths, accentuated with red gem-like berries or dusty pinecones, welcome people into homes, reminding us of the plants that remain alive even in the depths of winter. Twinkling lights, either a honeyed white or a colorful plentitude of hues, adorn roofs like stars descended from the heavens. However, there is one special charac- ter that rules the plethora of Christmas ornaments. Sometimes statues depict him holding his belly in the midst of a big jolly laugh. Other times he balances a huge sack of presents on his back as he pores over a list of names and toys. On yet other occasions he appears as a tall, thin serious-faced man with an exquisitely embroidered robe and staff. Yes, this is Santa Claus, or St. Nick, or Father Christ- mas -- the man of many names whose arrival chil- dren eagerly await at Christ- mas. Known around the world with different moni- kers, though hisAmerican representation has often eclipsed other traditional gift-bringers, Santa Claus proves at once both recog- nizable and mysterious. As the feast day of one of Santa Claus's inspirations, St. Nicholas, approaches on December 6 TM, it is a good time to examine the histori- cal origins and contempo- rary customs regarding this merry, bearded man. Like most Christmas tra- ditions, Santa Claus contains a mix of both pagan and Christian origins. His reli- gious inspiration comes from the figure of St. Nicholas, a fourth century bishop from Myra, Turkey. St. Nicholas was renowned for his gener- osity towards the poor and towards children, traits which carried over to the modern-day Santa Claus. In one famous story, St. Nicho- las dropped off bags of gold for three sisters who were too poor to pay their wedding dowry, thus establishing him as a holiday bearer of gifts. These legends about St. Nicholas combined with legends about Odin, the Norse ruler of the gods. Dur- the sky, riding on his majes- tic horse, just as Santa Claus travels by sleigh through a wintry sky. The American perceptions of Santa Claus came much later. In 1823, a poem called "A Visit from Saint Nicholas," written by Clement Clarke Moore es- tablished Santa Claus as chubby, jolly and possessing of reindeer; later, famous cartoonist Thomas Nast pub- lished one of the first picto- rial representations of our modern Santa Claus in Harper's Weekly. Now, the famous image of Santa Claus as a rotund, bearded man in a red suit has spread across the world as a symbol of Christmas. In some coun- tries, Santa Claus (whose name derives from the Dutch Sinterklaas) is known as Father Christmas and is depicted more as a stern, slender man of the woods with a robe that more closely resembles bishop's garb. In Italy, however, Santa Claus resembles the American version, though he is known as Babbo Natale, which translates to Father Christ- mas. Traditionally, la Befana serves as the holiday gift- bringer in Italy, distributing her treats on the eve of the Epiphany, but Italian chil- dren also write letters to labbo Natale hoping for Christmas gifts. The feast of St. Nicholas falls on December 6 th, and many countries in Europe join the celebration. In France, children bake gin- gerbread houses and brioche shaped like St. Nicholas. In Germany, Hungary and Romania, children place shoes or boots on windowsills or doorways the night of Iecember 5% and awaken to find them filled with can- dies and small gifts the next morning. Meanwhile, Polish kids hope to find a small bag of sweets under their pillows upon waking up on Decem- ber 6 TM. St. Nicholas's Day is also a holiday in Italy, where the saint is known as San Nicola di Bari, stem- ming from the smuggling of St. Nicholas's remains from Turkey to the city of Bari in southern Italy. My grand- mother grew up near Bari and remembers elaborate processions held in honor of NEW LOCATION Richard Since 1969 FOR ALL YOUR INSURANCE NEEDS AUTO * HOMEOWNERS * TENANTS COMMERCIAL Experience makes the difference 209 BROADWAY, REVERE, MA 02151 Tel. 781.284.1100 Fax 781.284.2200 Free Parking Adjacent to Building ries in Italy and the pride she feels for her hometown city. In the northern regions of Italy like Trentino and Trieste, where Germanic influences inter- mingle with Italian cus- toms, children receive presents on St. Nicholas's Day and attend folkloristic fairs named after the saint. Here in the United States, my family celebrates the feast day of St. Nicholas with whimsical traditions. My husband's parents bless candy canes and distribute them to relatives and friends. I bake a simple but delicious eggnog cake with a brown-sugar topping for this holiday. It tastes creamy and festive, and brings out the child in me, just like the image of Santa Claus does! I love the idea of St. Nicholas's Day as a small precursor to Christmas, a tantalizing look at the fes- tivities and food to come, yet replete with its own folksy customs. Whether you know him as Santa Claus, Father Christ- mas, or BabboNatale, there is no denying that the jolly old man in red continues to serve as an indelible icon of the winter holidays. His story throughout the mists of history echoes that of Christmas traditions as a whole. He sprang out of ancient origins, a blend of both Christian and pagan imagery, and his legend grew with the help of litera- ture, cartoons and unique national traditions. Mean- while, the feast on Decem- ber 6 th honors the bishop who inspired Santa Claus, and functions as a sort of small- scale Christmas, where children receive gifts and special holiday treats. Santa Claus, no matter what you call him, is a reminder of the generosity and child-like wonder that should accom- pany our lives not only during the holidays but the whole year round. If we let joy and kindness rule, the holiday spirit will follow us all year long, and we can continu- ously strive to improve our lives and those of the people around us -- no red suit or white beard necessary! Ally Di Censo Symynkywicz is a Graduate Student in History at the University of Massachusetts Boston. She appreciates any comments and suggestions about Italian holidays and folklore at adicenso89@gmail, com. We Need to Be Angry Sheep for a Change I always thought the gov- ernment worked for us, not the other way around. How- ever, nowadays it would ap- pear We the People have be- come We the Serfs. Our gov- ernment continues to grow in power with both the estab- lishment Democrats and Republicans sleeping very comfortably together in the same bed. How really differ- ent is US Senator John McCain, the useless 2008 presidential candidate from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? Both believe in the idea of the power of the state. Will electing a Repub- lican president in 2016 re- ally change things? Or elect- ing more conservatives to Congress do any real good in the long run? The federal system of government seems to have lost its moor- ings to the constitution. We were created by our forbear- ers as a constitutional and democratic republic. Are we still that today? Or are we moving backward toward the British America where the King's word was law. Down in Tennessee re- cently a public school system decided that parents had to wait in a line of cars to pick up their kids after school. On paper, it sounds pretty inno- cent, right. A-ha! You might be surprised to know that things aren't always what they seem to be. I recently heard an audio taken at a Tennessee school when a parent tried to pick up his child after walking to the school. They live a few houses away from the pub- lic school in question. This father was prevented from doing so because he didn't have a vehicle. The new pub- lic school policy made no ex- ceptions apparently for walk- ing parents. The principal would not release the child to him and called for police backup. By this time the mom showed up with a re- cording device to capture the moment. The deputy sheriff told him to get back in line and the dad repeated he had no car. Finally, ac- cusing the dad of causing a disturbance the farther was arrested. When I heard the audio I wondered how stupid could a principal or law enforce- ment officer be not to recog- nize they were wrong and the parent correct. However, what really bothered me more was the fact that so many parents did as they were told, got their cars in a line and waited as long as it took to get their children. Lining up like sheep going bah, bah, bah. One guy decided to stand up to school authorities who wouldn't give him his kid and got arrested for being a good parent. Obviously, gov- ernment acts as it does whether on parents lining up their cars or on health insurance because it sees us as nothing more than flocks of sheep that stand down when ordered. This fa- ther turned into an angry sheep and seemingly to the deputy on the audio in ques- tion, there is no such thing as an angry sheep. If you're angry, you're a threat. I don't agree with every- thing being said by Tea Party adherents but I do believe that the more government grows, the more sheep get corralled. If our founding fathers were alive today, they would have stopped in that school doorway and confronted that police officer that this is (Continued on Page 12) KIWANIS CLUB OF FAST BOSTON & Event chairperson Joseph ferrino Invite yau to join in Christmas Caroling At ti Don Orione Nursing Home m Orient Ave, East Boston Wednesday, December 11 th at 2:oopm Song books and musical accompaniment will be provided for the Kiwanians, Key Club, family and friends joining us Santa Claus is scheduled to make an appearance - don't miss this event!