With the Saints of the Holidays: Part II Saint Nicholas

“As I drew in my head and was turning around, down the chimney Saint Nicholas came with a bound…”  Clement Clarke Moore

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown
Before there was Santa Claus, there was St. Nick. Jolly, plump, elfin.
Saint Nicholas began his saintly life in what is now a province of Turkey.  His was an age that saw sweeping changes in the geo-political world of the Roman Empire.  It was during his term as Archbishop that Constantine the Great divided the empire between capitals in Rome and Constantinople.  Nick was at the crossroads of history.
Perhaps it’s why history has taken such great note of him. 
Saint Nick John Bartram
Saint Nicholas has been transformed by time and customs.


During his life, he is given credit for being a very nice guy:

He gave dowries to three girls who would otherwise have remained husbandless.  The three bags of gold that he dropped through their window (or down their chimney!) can still be seen today as iconic symbols outside any pawn shop door. 

He resurrected three young boys out of a vat of curing spices after they’d been slaughtered by a hungry local butcher.  Our own tradition of serving ham for the holidays might have started with that pork barrel.

He was responsible for taking by deception two years supply of wheat from a ship’s cargo meant for the emperor in Constantinople.  By miraculously replacing the grain, the sailors successfully delivered the measured cargo but the starving people of Myra had not only sustenance but seeds for spring planting.  This is a reason why he has become the patron saint of sailors.

For whatever reason, this man has become the icon of gift giving in a season of darkness.  His named has become synonymous with impulse we have to give until it hurts.  People even collect images of him hoping that more will be deposited on his journey around the world on Christmas Eve.


Santa Claus John Bartram Kirk R. Brown
A shrine to Saint Nicholas


He lives in a magical world of light and eternal happiness.  His journey is one that we would all emulate.  Whether he is named St. Nick, Sinterklaas, Santa Claus, Pere Noel, or Father Chrismas, he fills the world with joy.  Let us join with his goodness this holiday and welcome in the New Year with good cheer.


John Bartram Kirk R. Brown
The world would be a bluer place without Saint Nicholas!

With the Saints of the Holidays: Part I Santa Lucia

“Sometimes our fate resembles a fruit tree in winter.  Who would think that those branches would turn green again and blossom, but we hope it, we know it!”  Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

This season is ripe with reasons for celebration.  It is the ancient passage of the sun through its winter solstice.

Muhlenberg College Santa Lucia Festival
Dr. Carolus Linnaeus celebrated the Festival of Santa Lucia in North America this year.
Dr. Carl Linnaeus visited the North American colonies this season at the invitation of the Viking Lodge.  That is the group who is selected by the Trustees and Faculty of Muhlenberg College to assist in the production of the annual Santa Lucia Festival service at the Egger Chapel.
Their members make up the choir of angelic voices while the parts in the pageant are given out to the children of faculty members.

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown Speaker Lecturer Horticulturist

The choir is made up of members of the Viking Lodge. The children of the Santa Lucia Festival are family of Muhlenberg College Faculty.

Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy) was a real person during the time when Roman Emperor Diocletian was actively engaged in the eradication of Christians.  Many apocryphal stories are woven around the legend of her torture, blinding, martyrdom, and strong faith.  Many miracles are attributed to her intercession.  Hers is also one of the few hagiographies that was transferred almost in its entirety from Roman Catholicism to Lutheran Protestantism. 
Saint Lucy is a favorite of the Swedes and other northern cultures.  Her story is one of bringing the light of Christianity to darker (read pagan) cultures.  Her crown of evergreen and candles combines the much earlier traditions of Norse legend with celebrations of the winter solstice and Christian piety. 
Her special day is recognized on our current Christian calendar by its proximity to the Winter Solstice on the old Julian date.  You’ll remember that it was Pope Gregory XIII who in 1582 corrected the drift of our annual vernal equinox by dropping 10 days out of that year and adding our celebration of Leap Year.  It’s all about the sun and worshipping its return in time for the spring planting.

Santa Lucia Carl Linnaeus

The Star Children carry lights into the darkest night during the Santa Lucia pageant

So, Lucy’s lights helped our faithful and/or pagan Swedes to know when they should gather in the sheafs, put away the pigs and cows, and watch out for the spritely Tomte.  These last are the creatures of the forest who come in-doors to taunt and tease with their tricks and trials.  They are always the cutest and most-anticipated of actors because they are portrayed by the youngest members of the family.

Tomte gremlins gnomes elves sprites

The Tomte are always the youngest children participating in the pageant

After the pageant, all assembled adjourn to a feast that includes a hot spiced toast to the ancient ways.  Glug or Glog or Glub-glub-glub.  It’s the sound that the marinated raisins and almonds make as they are swallowed whole in the partying mix.
Carl Linnaeus was present to lecture on this particular festival of light and the reminder it brings all of the reason for the season.

John Bartram Kirk R. Brown as Carl Linnaeus

Carl Linnaeus celebrating the Santa Lucia Festival with the Viking Lodge

On a cold winter’s night, it’s a grand way to stay warm.  A very good and toasty time was had by all!  Gut yul!