Today, 6th December, is the Feast of Saint Nicholas (whose name became corrupted through the Dutch Sint Niklaus into the North American Santa Claus, thereafter passed on to the whole English-speaking world). In Artois, where I live, and in neighbouring ancient cross-border Provinces, such as Flanders and Hainault, as well as across much of Northern Europe, it is a great occasion for the children. In most towns, they benefit from the sweets (candies, I believe them to be called across the Atlantic) distributed by a man dressed as the Saint, in full Bishop's robes and mitre. He is accompanied by another, usually dressed in black, the Père Fouettard, with a bundle of birch sticks to thrash the naughty.
Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra, in the modern Turkish Province of Antalya, and his tomb is a place of pilgrimage for many Christians. His charity and love for children have given rise to many tales and legends, including his having provided a dowry for three poor, young sisters who could not otherwise have married out of their poverty. This aspect of his life is celebrated throughout Christendom by children leaving out, on Christmas Eve, stockings (in most English-speaking countries) or clogs or shoes (in mainland Europe) in the hope of finding in them on Christmas morning some small gift or gifts.
For a simple old man such as myself, this is a harmless, charming and delightful custom, and we kept it up for many years when our children were young. We always made it seem that these small gifts, a few fruit and other items, must have been left by the Saint. There are, however, those who wish to spoil anyone's enjoyment of anything, and they are particularly rife among certain youngsters.
When our eldest daughter was about eight years old, she came home from school one day to tell me that some boys had told her Santa Claus did not exist. I reacted immediately, and helped her write a letter to the Governor of Antalya in which she explained what she had been told.
The Governor not only replied, but, spurred on no doubt by an understandable desire to increase tourism, sent her a lovely book about the Saint, beautifully illustrated with pictures which included one of his tomb, and also a number of posters for her school linking the Saint to the Province. The delightful Reverend Mother at the school was extremely happy to receive these and display in the school, and, when she next saw me, she told me that she thought that my action in this matter was typical of me!
In recent years, it has been somewhat sad for Christians, such as myself, to see that Santa Claus has become confused with the apparently totally pagan Father Christmas, as a means of promoting increasing consumption over the ever-lengthening Christmas season. This misuse of any kind of religious symbolism or legends makes me think of other much more dangerous actions, such as those dear to the hearts of the so-called "Christian" Zionists, such as many enormously wealthy preachers in the United States.
These manipulative preachers have worked out a strange interpretation of the book of the Revelation to Saint John (otherwise known as the Apocalypse), based on its translation into English in the version ordered by King James I of England and VI of Scotland. This book, the last in the New Testament, gives a wonderful and highly poetic recital of a mystical vision, and it reveals, above all, Saint John's belief in the love of God. However, it cannot in any way be properly used to justify such anti-Christian horrors including the mass murder inflicted on the people of Iraq and elsewhere, on the orders of USA Presidents Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II.
Based upon references in this book to past battles, these men (who live in the luxury provided by their deluded followers) dare to declare that the death and suffering of so many innocent people is the will of the God of Love. I can well believe that it is the will of their god, a horrible thing known to many of us as Mammon. But it is disgusting that they should make their flocks believe that sheer cruelty, such as that of the Nazis towards Jews, Gypsies and others, or of the Zionists towards the Arabs, can be reconciled with the teachings of Jesus, neatly summed up in the Beatitudes.
It is difficult for me to understand how any form of brain-washing can be so effective, if the followers of these purveyors of evil are permitted to read the whole Bible in a good translation. It is perhaps in the quality of the translation that the rot started, but it is hard to pervert the simple language of the Beatitudes, or of the Ten Commandments. I remain puzzled, therefore, when I learn that vast numbers of inhabitants of what is (to my mind rather crudely) called the "Bible Belt" remain devoted followers of these preachers of hate, if such followers ever bother themselves to open and read their Bibles at home or elsewhere. I have been told that there are footnotes to the translations supplied to them, which entirely and fundamentally alter traditional Christian teaching; but even then the simplicity of wording of both the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes seem to me impossible to modify to such a extent.
Let us all beware of the influence of people (who have so deeply influenced his predecessors and who do not hesitate to use military might to crush justice), who have become powerful through their membership of these abominable anti-Christian cults. It appears that Mr Obama's slogan of "Change" did not include any intention of fighting and destroying these noxious groups, since he has nominated a series of such people to serve in his administration from and after 20th January 2009. This makes a happy new year unlikely, and explains why so many observers expect a very smooth transition from the present régime to the next, which resembles it so closely.
In the meantime, let us at Christmas remember the message of divine love which forms the principal element of traditional Christian teaching, and celebrate Santa Claus, as the wonderfully charitable man that he was on this earth.
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