Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Magic of Christmas

I've always believed in the magic of Christmas and never lost the desire to celebrate the simple joyfulness of this special time of year. On this my last post of the year, I'd like to tell you a story about something that happened to me several Christmases ago.

           The night is Christmas Eve. Everyone is fast asleep upstairs in their beds.

 I begin to ease the house into the dark night. I push a little black button that turns off the miniature train village and the front parlor’s Christmas Memory tree. How I love watching the electric trains encircle this special tree, filled with our children’s handmade ornaments from top to bottom, some over 40 years old. 

Next, with a quick tap of a tiny switch on an old wall, the white lights on the bushes outside go black. 

I peer out of an old window set into a green paneled door. My nose, with its warmth, clouds the wavy glass. No people, no cars on the road, just newly fallen snow that sparkles like diamonds under a moonlit sky.  

My slippered feet take me to the rear of our old house and its recent addition. I pass the kitchen where another switch is tapped in the new foyer controlling the lights in the driveway. 

After a whispered thank you to my Lord, I say goodnight to the 50-foot evergreen near our barn. Its multicolored light bulbs glow under a dusting of snow and feels almost like a blessing on our centuries old home. 

I hear the porch door, which faces the woods, open and close with a crunch from the ice that has formed on its threshold. My husband, Tim, lets Mac, our senior Beagle, make his last mark on the frozen ivy for the night.

The piney smell of an inside tree tingles my nose and draws my attention back into the living room. The elegant and mighty fir, decorated with over a hundred small ribbons touches the cathedral ceiling with a large red bow from long ago.  Silver glass balls hang near the bottom and antique ornaments from my childhood are delicately placed at the top.  Hallmark specials fill in the middle, all hung within everyone’s reach, so with the touch of other tiny buttons, Christmas Carols or silly sounds from Disney characters fill the air. Blinking lights complete this lovely Christmas image. But I feel my eyes closing and as sleep slowly creeps through my body I turn the tree lights off.

From my right comes the soft glow of a lone bulb that lights the wooden manger of the Baby Jesus. It’s the final click of the night. 

In the darkness, I inch my way to our bedroom where I climb into bed next to Tim and then under the thick blankets for a good winters sleep. 

It isn’t long, at least it seems quick to me, that I hear something on the roof. I glance at the clock; it’s 3am and way to soon to wake. I roll over, hug my pillow and try to catch another 40 winks. But the sound of a thump startles me once again and my drowsy eyes open wide. 

I throw off the covers. With me in my nightgown and feet without socks, I fly to the doorway only to see that all is still, bathed in the shadowy light from a cold winter’s moon. My heart races, my head becomes filled on this Christmas Eve with the thought of just one thing.  And yet, nothing makes sense at the moment, I question myself, what was that clatter…the outside shower door in the wind? a branch on the roof? 

Soon a smile grows across my face as I slowly turn back to bed. Once under the warm quilts, it doesn’t matter. I know in my heart it could only be, the magic of Christmas. Yes, it has to be Santa Claus. And for a split second I am seven again, giggling under the covers, anxiously waiting for morning to come. This was surely a gift from Santa, a reward for a faithful belief that I’ve carried all my life. And when I wake, I’ll be pleased to tell my tale to all who’ll listen so they too can share in this wonder. 

The moral or lesson to my story is simple, be childlike. Believe in Santa Claus, believe in his spirit, his magic and keep him alive. He’s not such a bad guy after all. Remember it’s not all about presents and gifts, it’s about family, memories, love, kindness, and the twinkling bulbs that light the night. For me, it’s about an angel sent by God to remind us that his son was born to save us.  Call him St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, Pere Noel, or Santa Claus. He’s an angel true and true, one that makes our hearts lighter, our lives brighter and just happens to like the color red. 

 Merry Christmas and Happy Celebrations! 
See you next year!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Who was Saint Nicholas?

When I was a little girl, on the eve of December 6, my mother would always tell the family to put their shoes in front of the fireplace. If we'd been behaving, there would be an orange and some candy the next morning. If not, we'd receive a piece of coal or maybe nothing...but that never happened. Mom said these gifts came from Saint Nicholas. It was a test, to see if we needed to improve by the time Christmas morning came. I guess it was similar to the current 'elf on a shelf' craze.

Here's an image of Saint Nicholas. Notice the oranges and his red/green robe. Look familiar?

Here's what I found in my research.

Saint Nicholas died on December 6, 343 C.E. He came from a wealthy family, always giving away his money to the poor. He soon became a priest. After his parents died, he used his inheritance to help even more people but only traveled in the night, in secret. By the time he was made the Bishop of Myra, in the city of Denre in present day Turkey, his good deeds and saintly work had spread far and wide.

As centuries came and went, his reputation became almost mythical. Over 400 churches in the Middle Ages were dedicated in his honor. Because of his gift giving and evidence of miracles, people began celebrating and giving gifts to each other on his feast day.
Martin Luther, in the early 1500s, replaced the name Nicholas with Christ Child, or in German, Christkindl, eventually evolving into Kris Kringle. 

More legends sprang up, and in the late 1500s there was another name change–Father Christmas.

Along the way, the tradition developed guidelines. On the eve of December 6, parents instructed their children to hang their stockings by the fireplace or put their shoes out and they would be filled if they were good. They also had to go to bed early if they wanted anything because St. Nick only came at night to deliver his gifts.

The Dutch pronunciation for Saint Nicholas was Sinter Klass. When the Dutch settlers came to the New World and settled in New York, known then as New Amsterdam, they brought their St. Nick traditions. The name changed again from Sinter Klass to Santa Klass to Santa Claus. Which brings us to today.

We all know who this is!

On a side-note:

I still remember my brother and I coming down the stairs, dressed in our school uniforms, anticipating what was in our shoes for St. Nicholas Day. Then on the bus to school, we dreamed about what we would be receiving on the coming Christmas Day because our shoes were filled, signifying that we were being very good. My Mom collaborated with St. Nicholas  through high school, college, and even when we all moved away with our own families. What a treat it was when a St. Nicholas card arrived in the mail with a little money inside.  

Struna's St. Nicholas Day 1976

 I continued the family custom for my own children and so did my brother and sisters with their children. When my Mom passed and I moved further away from everyone to Cape Cod, I wanted to keep the observance of St. Nick alive, along with the goodness of my Mom. So every year I mail a St. Nicholas card to my nieces and nephews, filling it with a dollar bill for each member of their family.  Over the years, I hope they have enjoyed it as much I have. It's a simple reminder to be good and never lose the magic of the season.

I wish the same to you.