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In this section of Errand of Angels:
Debra Oaks Coe (c) all rights reserved
1. Thou shalt not put any other holiday traditions or celebrations (not even Santa
Claus) above the celebration of our Savior's birth and the deep meaning of His life,
teachings, and sacrifices.
Debra Oaks Coe (c) all rights reserved
Saint Nicholas was a very real person who was born as the only child to wealthy parents around 270 A.D. in what is now Turkey. Upon the death of his parents while he was yet relatively young, he inherited a rather large sum of money. It is said that he was already a religious boy and that soon after the death of his parents, he dedicated his life to serving Jesus Christ.
He became very well known for his love of children and generosity to the poor. His method of giving was generally more in the form of throwing a bag of money into a window, or putting gold coins in the stockings of the needy as they hung out to dry.
There are many legends that go with the type of person St. Nicholas was. One of the better-documented accounts of his generosity tells of a family who was starving with no money for food much less money for a dowry so the father could marry off his three daughters. The father was considering sending at least the oldest out to earn money as a prostitute. When the young Nicholas heard of this, he went during the night to a window of the home and threw in a bag of gold coins. In the morning they found the gold; they now had money for food and a dowry as well. The daughter kept her honor.
Because there were two other sisters, the young Nicholas threw in two more bags of coins on two other occasions. By the third time, the father wanted to know whom the benefactor was and watched until finally he caught the lad after he threw the third bag of money. It is reported that Nicholas was very upset that someone knew of his acts of charity and made the father promise not to tell anyone who had helped his family.
Eventually he became the bishop of the church in Myra where he was known for more great acts of charity. One legend said that some children were captured by a group of pirates that threatened to take the children to be sold as slaves if some large amount of money was not given to them. This bishop is said to have gotten the money himself and given it to the pirates to save the children.
During this period of history, the Romans were still persecuting Christians with their infamous cruelties including throwing them to the lions, etc. Although the worst persecution of the Christians had just taken place about 250 A.D. under the reign of Decius Trajan, there had been relative peace in the later part of the century. But in 303 A.D., the last of the great Roman persecutions began. The Roman Emperor Diocletian was persuaded again to suppress the Christian religion. Those who would not give up following the Lord, Jesus Christ, and turn over their sacred books would be either killed or put in prison. Those who went to prison were cruelly tortured.
According to Elder B.H. Roberts in Outlines of Ecclesiastical History, page 128: "The constancy of all the Christians, no, not even that of all the their bishops and clergy, was equal to this trial, and many voluntarily surrendered the sacred writings in their possession to save themselves from punishment and death." During this period, charges were made up that allowed the government to throw all Bishops and ministers in prison. An edict authorized the officials to use severe torture to force these church leaders to make sacrifices to the pagan gods. The hope was that if the leaders could be defeated, and forced to give worship to other gods, their people would follow. Many great men suffered and died in defense of their faith in Christ. St. Nicholas was among these bishops.
This part of Saint Nicholas is not legend, it is part of history. While he lived in a world where apostasy from Christianity was all around him, he stood for what he believed. Saint Nicholas was one of the few who survived Diocletian's torture chambers. This is where he gained his title Saint; for those who did survive were called "saints" by the people in honor of their great devotion to Jesus Christ.
Saint Nicholas was freed when the new Emperor Constantine came to power. It is said that as he reentered Myra, the people flocked around him in his honor. He may have been beaten and tortured, but he was not broken. He went on to serve the people for many more years giving service and adding to the legends of his great goodness. To me this is a story of a man who did his best to serve his God and apply the principles taught by Jesus Christ. It is one that is worthy of being pasted down to our children.
How we went from stories of this ancient priest to our present day Santa Claus, is yet another entire story. However, I found it interesting to learn that many of these changes began in New York in 1822 just as the true gospel was about to be restored.
We had the good fortune of spending over seven years in Germany as a family. In this country, Saint Nicholas is still called by that name, not Santa Claus. He is a priest with a normal sized body who wears a plain robe, without fur, that is not necessarily red. He has no magical powers or magical reindeer and elves -- he rides a donkey that he must coax along. Our children attended German school for several years. In these schools they still tell the legends of this good man and his love and concern for children and the poor. Saint Nicholas day is December 6th, the day that the real Saint Nicholas died. On the night of the December 5th is when he leaves his presents and the children put their shoes by the door for him. Because this Saint Nicholas is more human, he doesn't come down the chimney nor can he put his finger to the side of his nose and go back up to the roof top. December 25th and 26th (they have two days for Christmas) is a time only for the celebration of the birth of Christ.
We have adopted many of these German customs. We tell our children about Saint Nicholas rather than Santa Claus and we celebrate his example on the 6th. I explain that it is the example and spirit of generosity that lives on. We try to give our children opportunities to play this secret role of giving to other families so that they too can feel of this spirit.
I believe that as Christians ourselves we should be promoting a Christian emphasis for the holiday. Statistics show that only 21% consider this a time to think about the birth of the Savior. For most people in America, Santa Claus is the only level celebrated. But even Santa Claus is a thread for these people back to Christianity. Perhaps we can spread the word of who this man was and help them understand that if the real Saint Nicholas were here to celebrate with us, he would tell us to look to the Son of God. I believe he would also be reminding us that we are celebrating a Holy Day and that this is the original meaning of the word Holiday.
by Henry van Dyke
It is a good thing to observe Christmas day. The mere marking of times and seasons, when men agree to stop work and make merry together, is a wise and wholesome custom. It helps one to feel the supremacy of the common life over the individual life. It reminds a man to set his own little watch, now and then, by the great clock of humanity which runs on sun time.
But there is a better thing than the observance of Christmas day, and that is keeping Christmas.
Are you willing to forget what you have done for other people, and to remember what other people have done for you; to ignore what the world owes you, and to think what you owe the world; to put your rights in the background, and your duties in the middle distance, and your chances to do a little more than your duty in the foreground; to see that your fellowmen are just as real as you are, and try to look behind their faces to their hearts hungry for you; to own that probably the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life; to close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around you for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness -- are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear in their hearts; to try to understand what those who live in the same house with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open -- are you willing to do these things even for a day? Then you can keep Christmas.
Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world -- stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death -- and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem nineteen hundred years ago is the image and brightness of Eternal Love? Then you can keep Christmas.
And if you can keep it for a day, why not always? But you can never keep it alone.
It was only four days before Christmas. The spirit of the season hadn't yet caught up with me, even though cars packed the parking lot of our local discount store. Inside the store, it was worse. Shopping carts and last minute shoppers jammed the aisles. Why did I come today? I wondered. My feet ached almost as much as my head.
I picked the shortest line but it looked as if it would mean at least a 20 minute wait. In front of me were two small children - a boy of about 5 and a younger girl. The boy wore a ragged coat. Enormously large, tattered tennis shoes jutted far out in front of his much too short jeans. He clutched several crumpled dollar bills in his grimy hands. The girl's clothing resembled her brother's. Her head was a matted mass of curly hair. Reminders of an evening meal showed on her small face. She carried a beautiful pair of shiny, gold house slippers.
As the Christmas music sounded in the store's stereo system, the girl
hummed along, off-key
Don't cry. We'll come back," he said. Quickly I handed
$3.00 to the cashier. These children had waited in line for a long time. And, after
all, it was Christmas. Suddenly a pair of arms came
Silently I thanked God for using these children to remind me of the true spirit of giving.
The fish, Greek ichthys (ixquj), is a symbol for Christ which has been in use since the days of the early church. In Greek, it is an acronym for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior:
Jesus -I h s o u V
Christ -C r i s t o V
God's -Q e o u
Son -U i o V
Saviour -S w t h r
Frequently Christians were forced to worship secretly. The fish symbol served them well in difficult times because it generally would go unnoticed by a foe of Christianity when Christians used it to communicate. Placed outside a Christian's home, this symbol would announce silently that Christian Communion was to be observed secretly there that night. Artistic forms of the fish frequently decorated the Roman catacombs where Christians were forced to meet during persecution.
Notice that X was the first letter in the word that was Greek for Christ. In the fourth century, copies of the scriptures had to hand written. Commonly used terms were abbreviated using the letter abbreviation. The original four gospels were written in Greek and so the abbreviation of X for Christ remained.
So the next time you see the X used in Christmas instead of Christ, instead of being upset and feeling like it is an effort to take Christ out of Christmas, be reminded of early Christians trying to worship their Savior and later by people trying to speed up the process of making more copies of the scriptures.When adverse conditions affect the celebration of Christmas, such as when those allergic reactions to Christmas trees purchase artificial white Christmas trees, the integrity of the tradition is not compromised.
Mary Beth Hughes Copyright 1998 all rights reserved
I was eleven when my parents were near the end of a nasty divorce and it was just a couple
of weeks before Christmas. Mom was struggling just to keep food on the table and
heat in the house. Indiana can have some pretty cold winters and it was cold this
year. At the time, I had two brothers and one sister. By finding, saving, and
selling pop bottles and egg cartons, Mom and I had enough money to get some Christmas
candy for the kids' socks. Mom had squirreled away a little to get each of us a
small gift from her.
I don't remember being sad but Mom was and she cried on more than one night. We weren't
taught to pray and we weren't allowed to, but I still believed in God. So I told him that
I knew that Santa wasn't real but he was and would he please give my Momma a Christmas.
A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness of
his faith, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols of the
birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ.
Catholics in England were prohibited by law from practicing their faith, both in private and in public from 1558 to 1829. Being a Catholic was treated as a crime. There was no restored gospel at the time, however there were good Christians who knew without doubt the true church was not one that was mainly created merely for the convenience of King Henry the Eighth) who wanted to sin and have a church justify his actions. So in secret they continued to teach their children their Christian religion.
"The Twelve Days of Christmas" was written in England during this time frame. It was written to help children learn about their religion. The entire song is writing in symbolism and hidden meanings because it was illegal to have anything in writing that would indicate adherence to the Catholic faith. To be caught could mean imprisonment, hanging, or drawn and quartered.
Christmas referred to a twelve day period that starts with Christmas day. "The Twelve Days of Christmas" referred to a twelve day period that began Christmas day. While the world may have celebrated Christmas for about twelve hours, these Christians celebrated it for twelve days as a reminder that the gifts of God are with us for twelve months of the year. It also represented the idea that we should be thankful for the gifts of God and follow His teachings for all twelve months of the year and not just one day a year.
The song begins, "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me..." The "true love" represents God, as our greatest love should be for Him. The word worship means that which we love the most. The "me" who receives these presents is the Christian man or woman.
1. The "partridge in a pear tree" was Jesus Christ who died on a structure made from the wood of a tree. In ancient times a partridge was often used as mythological symbol of a divine, sacred king.
2. The "two turtle doves" were the Old and New Testaments - another gift from God. Doves symbolize peace and the Gospel contained in these scriptures, when practiced, brings peace.
3. The "three French hens" were faith, hope and love - the three gifts of the Spirit that abide
(I Corinthians 13). The French hens can also represent God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost.
4. The "four calling birds" were the four Gospels which sing the song of salvation through Jesus Christ.
5. The "five golden rings" were the first five books of the Bible also called the "Books of Moses."
6. The "six geese a-laying" were the six days of creation.
7. The "seven swans a swimming" were "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit." (I Corinthians 12:8-11, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, 1 Peter 4:10-11)
8. The "eight maids a milking" were the eight beatitudes.
9. The "nine ladies dancing" were nine fruits of the Holy Spirit.
10. The "ten lords a-leaping" were the Ten Commandments.
11. The "eleven pipers piping" were the eleven faithful disciples.
12. The "twelve drummers drumming" were the twelve points of the Apostles' Creed.
A wonderful story of teaching children why we celebrate Christmas
An outstanding story about the meaning of Christmas
Return to Holidays
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