Holidays, Holy Days, and Old Saint Nick


The holidays are upon us, and – as usual – we will be traveling to see relatives.  I am looking forward to the family, but not the airports, highways, hotels and car rental firms.  I am getting too old for this, which means I spend December dreading the season when I should be celebrating the coming of the light. 

Christmas itself is a disappointing holiday in many ways.  One of the most awkward situations over the years as we have visited our children’s homes is the moment when we are about to leave for a Christmas Eve service at a church we have located on-line and ask if anyone – child or grandchild – would like to go with us.  The question clears the room rapidly.  So we go to church to try to feel what Christians and Druids felt as the dark days start to get light again, and everyone else remains home and dreams of the glories of capitalism that will appear under the tree in the morning.

I recently heard Rebecca Solnit use the term “the tyranny of the quantifiable” (which she attributed to Chip Ward).  What a wonderful description of the world we live in!  Democracy may be trouble – I am not quarreling with that.  But the biggest winner of all is capitalism.  For a holiday that celebrates the worth that can come out of a cow’s manger, the indoctrination of us all to a season of excess is pitiful.  And in an age when you can simulate sunlight and set your thermostat at 70 (no matter the weather outside), perhaps the turning of the year does not seem like such a miracle.

Don’t get me wrong, we looked forward to Christmas presents when I was a child.  Expectations were lower but ripping paper off packages was just as passionate as it is now.  But we had other memories of Christmas – church nativity pageants, family carol sings, the smells of cooking that went on and on.  I know that I sound like an old grump.  I will keep these thoughts to myself when I visit the grandkids and help them put batteries in the multitude of plastic that will emerge on Christmas morning.

Even Christmas decorations have gone downhill (says the grumpy old lady).  Our neighborhood is filled with those blow-up Santas and elves, which require a light and a noisy compressor to keep them inflated during the evening.  During the day, the deflated Saint Nicks look like piles of garbage bags on the lawn.  Our neighbors have an inflatable Holy Family, which is sad to see in its deflated daytime state.  It would be more of a “joy to the world” if we acknowledged global warming and cut down on the Snoopy Santas.

Santa, as you probably know, traces his origins to Saint Nicholas.  Saint Nicholas was the patron saint of – among other things –merchants and children.  So maybe he would not have disapproved of a holiday which made both children and merchants happy.  He died in the 4th century at the age of 73 – a ripe old age for those perilous times.  He is usually depicted with a white beard, but little body fat.  It was Coca Cola ads that originally made Santa chubby. (Of course, he does have to eat all those cookies.)  Santa is always depicted as old, but never as decrepit, never as tired, never as sick.  But think of all that traveling (magic reindeer or not)!  I only have to face air travel for a few hours, but it will age me.  It always does.  I am sure that my grandchildren wish that I were jollier and came with more presents that I can fit in my carry-on luggage.  I am definitely not aging as well as Santa.

Some of my grandchildren celebrate Three Kings Day on Epiphany.  Artists from Fra Angelico to Rubens often portrayed the wise men as of different ages: young, middle-aged and old. According to the apocryphal legends, the oldest was Melchior, Balthazar was in the middle, and the youngest magus was Caspar. Apparently, epiphanies are possible at any age.  But it should be noted that the eldest brought the gold.

I am posting a new Christmas story – “Cookie Crumbs.”  The tale of a Santa for an old person.  There are other stories about Christmas here; you might try “Epiphany” if you are dealing with young adult children returning home for the holidays.  As we head to the New Year, there is also the post “Baby New Year and Old Father Time” from a couple of years ago.  Here’s to a meaningful holiday season and a peaceful and healthy new year. 

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