Today is the saint day of Nicholas of Myra. A little background on him: He was a pastor in Myra, Turkey in the 4th century and was known for his generosity and care for children. Santa Claus as a character was inspired by him. I've known this for a long time ("Jolly old Saint Nicholas, lean your ear this way..."), but I have been so confused as to how he got the name Santa Claus from St. Nick and why he comes on his own day in Europe, but intrudes on Christ's day in the U.S. Turns out that Santa Claus comes from the Dutch name for Nicholas: Klaas. Problem 1 solved. Problem 2: because gifts are given by family members on Christmas-- or Christmas Eve, rather-- and because St. Nick brings gifts too, maybe it was just easier to combine the two days in the minds of some Americans. This is just pure speculation. I prefer the way they do it here, so that the massive consumerism which surrounds Christmas is dampened a little, and no one thinks the day is about some fat, old man, but they know it's about the Christ-child. (However, some of the teachers at my school told me this week told me that there is a notion creeping in that Baby Jesus, clad in a white fur-lined red cap, brings the presents to put under the tree for the Christmas Eve celebration. I'm left wondering which problem is worse).
Because St. Nicholas Day is celebrated here, we had a party for children and parents at the parish hall today with all kinds of fun. One of the features of the party was yours truly playing the role of Santa Claus (not Nicholas). Here there is actually the notion of Santa and Nicholas being different people, and Santa is apparently always portrayed as a foreigner, so I fit the bill. I got to say "Ho, ho, ho, Merry Christmas" and a few lame phrases in Czech to the crowd of people and then hand out candy to the kids after making them "earn" it by singing some English songs for me. At the end of the party the "real" Nicholas came (one of the men from the congregation dressed in the real Nicholas costume: priestly garments) and he and I had our picture taken with all of the children who wanted (or some whose parents wanted: there was more than one young child who, within a yard of the two of us started backing away with fear and tears in their eyes).
It was a lot of fun for me to get fat for the party (I had seven towels under my clothes, front and back). When it was all over and I was chatting about it with Karin, telling her how funny it was to have all the towels under my clothes and be so BIG, she said her only thought was that I would be beautiful pregnant. Thanks? Even with the beard?
So, a Happy St. Nicholas Day to you all! May we remember the blessed Saint Nicholas on his day and worship the Holy Child only on His...