Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The History of Saint Nicholas, Christmas, and the Birth of Jesus

Kemberlee Shortland, Copyright December 2011

"Dear Editor, I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, "If you see it in The Sun, it's so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus? ~Virginia O'Hanlon"

Have you ever wondered if there really was a Saint Nicholas? And if he existed, what happened to him? He really did exist you know, and I can tell you what happened to him.

Nicholas was born in Patara of Lycia, Turkey, sometime in the middle of the 3rd century. His birth date is disputed as being somewhere between 245-271AD.

He was the only child born to wealthy parents who provided him with a very Christian upbringing.

Unfortunately, Nicholas was orphaned at an early age when his parents died of the Plague and was sent to live in the monastery in Myra.

Under the guidance of the bishop there, Nicholas was educated and became ordained in his 20s. At the age of 30, on the death of the bishop, Nicholas was elected to be replaced as the new Bishop of Myra of Lycia. Nicholas became well known for his charity and his devoutness during his lifetime.

It's said that his faith was so great that his prayers calmed a stormy sea while on a trip to the Holy Lands.

He is also credited with the concept that Father, Son and Holy Spirit exists as one.

He was also well known for his kindnesses, charity and love of children. As a man of great wealth, having inherited from his family, he used his money to fund a poorhouse, hostelries and a hospital. He also donated money to poor families, especially children's charities.

Nicholas was the personification of Christian love and affection, and is one of the most widely known historic figures in the world. His memory is honored through all corners of the Earth. Especially in western civilization where he is considered the great patron saint of children. As Nicholas gave gifts to the children he so well loved during his lifetime, we continue the tradition by trading gifts with those we love today.

Nicholas died on the 6th of December, between 342-345AD, and was interred in the cathedral at Demre in Turkey. He was canonized in medieval times and made a saint.

Though Nicholas is long gone, his memory has remained alive for centuries, gaining many followers throughout Europe. Thousands of churches were built in his honor in the Middle Ages, nearly a Millennium after his death! It's said that there are more churches dedicated to St Nicholas around the world than to St Patrick.

To St Nicholas's honor, 6 December became the Feast of St Nicholas Day, and the exchange of gifts remained popular, especially with children.

Why is St Nicholas connected with gift giving? Well, Nicholas would ride to the homes of children in his parish on a donkey. He wore his bishops robes of red and white and bore gifts, usually of fruit, nuts, hard candies and sometimes clay or wood toys, that he'd leave on the mantel. This tradition continued from the mid 3rd century to the 16th century.

During the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, most of Europe saw the banishment of St Nicholas from its churches as his memory was aligned with that of Catholicism. Protestants refused to recognize any saint with connections to the Catholic Church. The gift giving tradition was forced underground, as did Catholicism. Practicing Catholics were forced to worship secretly in private homes and often at "mass rocks" in the countryside.

The Dutch are credited with keeping the tradition alive when they established New Amsterdam (New York USA) in the 1600s when they brought their traditions with them, including St Nicholas who remained their patron saint.

By the early 19th century, Catholicism saw a resurrection, and the traditions that had been secreted for so long were able to come back into practice, and into fashion.

Today, gift giving in St Nicholas's memory is alive and well and living throughout the world, and being practiced by most Christian faiths. Gift giving is a worldwide event that touches the hearts of millions --

• 6 December is still the traditional day of gift giving in the Netherlands and Germany, the German's calling the day "Nicholas Day" when an old shoe is placed on the doorstep overnight, which St Nicholas fills with gifts and sweets.

• In western Germany he's known as Klaasbuur, Sunnercla, Burklaas, Bullerklaas, and Rauklas. And in eastern Germany he's called Shaggy Goat, Ash Man and Rider. His helper is known as Knecht Ruprecht (Ruprecht the helper) all over Germany.

• In the Netherlands he's known as Sinterklaas (which was Anglicized as Santa Claus), and is said to travel from Spain in a steamboat two weeks before the 6th of December with his helper Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), who helps deliver the gifts.

• In France, he's known as Pere Noel (Father Christmas). His helper is Pere Fouettard (French for the Whipping Father). Pere Noel leaves presents for good children, while Pere Fouettard disciplines bad children with a spanking.

• St. Nicholas Day was celebrated formerly in Russia, but under Communism he was changed to Grandfather Frost and wore blue instead of red.

• In Sicily, he comes on December 13th and is called Santa Lucia.

• In the rest of the western world, he remains St Nicholas, and the gift giving day has moved to the 25th of December, which now coincides with the suspected date of the birth of Christ (see below for why Christmas and Christ's birthdays are celebrated together).

But no matter what name you know him by St Nicholas will probably always be best known simply as Santa Claus.

Throughout the world, families create their own traditions, which include many similar aspects some of which include the decoration of a tree, a feast for the family and gifts for loved ones.

According to legend, Saint Nicholas is now said to be buried in Ireland at Jerpoint Abbey in County Kilkenny. While retreating during the Crusades, the Knights of Jerpoint removed St Nicholas's body from his tomb at Myra, Turkey and reburied him in the Church of St. Nicholas to the west of Jerpoint Abbey.

Check out Bill Watkins's song about St Nicholas--

The Bones of Santa Claus
© Bill Watkins

Where lie the bones of Santa Claus
To what holy spot each pilgrim draws
Which crypt conceals his pious remains
Safe from the wild wind, snows and rains.

It's not in Rome his body lies
Or under Egypt's azure skies
Constantinople or Madrid
His reliquary and bones are hid.

That saint protector of the child
Whose relics pure lie undefiled
His casket safe within it's shrine
Where the shamrocks grow and rose entwine.

Devout wayfarer, cease your search
For in Kilkenny's ancient church
Saint Nicholas' sepulcher is found
Enshrined in Ireland's holy ground.

So traveler rest and pray a while
To the patron saint of orphaned child
Whose bones were brought to Ireland's shore
Safe from the Vandal, Hun and Moor.

Here lie the bones of Santa Claus
Secure beneath these marble floors
So gentle pilgrim, here the call
And may Saint Nicholas bless you all.

To learn more about Santa Claus, click here.

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The birth of Christ and Christmas

The Bible says Jesus was born when the lambs were in the fields. This time of year falls between April and October. Jesus was known to be 'half a year younger than John the Baptist,' who was born in late April. John's mother Elizabeth was close friends with Mary. Mary visited Elizabeth on the birth of her son to tell her the angel Gabriel came to tell her that she would also have a son. As John is six months older, this puts Jesus' birth sometime between late September/early October. As Jesus was 33.5 years old when he died, which was April, going back by six months takes us back to late September/early October, twice confirming this period as Jesus' birth date.

When citizens were called to Palestine to pay their taxes, it would have been too cold to ask so many people to travel in December. This event took place in the summer or early fall months.

It wasn't until the 4th century when Christianity started spreading worldwide that Jesus' birth became an issue. It was during that time when priests began spreading the word of the One God around Europe. Those priests were eventually canonized . . . St Patrick and St Brigit in Ireland, St David in Wales, St Andrew in Scotland, St George in Britain, etc. -- including Nicholas from Turkey who became St Nicholas, as above.

During the 4th and 5th centuries priests merged Pagan feast days with Christian holy days in order to convert "heathens" to Christianity. It was easy to tell people their gods' festival days coincided with Christian festivals. How could it be disputed? People didn't know. There was no reason to dispute the claims of the Christian priests so Pagans were easily converted.

For example --

• Bealtaine (1 May and the first day of summer) became May Day;
• Samhain (which is actually a Gaelic word for the month of November and the first day of winter) became Halloween/All Hallows Eve (31 Oct);
• Imbolc (2 Feb) became St Bridget's Day which eventually became Groundhog Day;
• Paschal Day become Easter, etc.

The date chosen to celebrate Christmas stems from a few things. The most accurate story which tells that the feast of Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun) was celebrated on December 25. When Christian priests were converting pagans from the 4th century, they were told that Nicholas's birth coincided with that of their Sun God who was said to have been born on 25 December . . . and it was the 25th that a mass for Christ began being celebrated. Christ's mass became Christmas, and over the centuries the legend of St Nicholas and Christmas evolved to what we celebrate today.

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However you celebrate your Christmas, Nicholas Day or Yuletide, make it a good one.

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•` ¤ Happy Holidays everyone!!*´¨)

Saturday, 10 December 2011

49 year anniversary - John Steinbeck wins the Nobel Prize for Literature

I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession. ~ John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck's acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize 10 December 1962 --

I thank the Swedish Academy for finding my work worthy of this highest honor.

In my heart there may be doubt that I deserve the Nobel award over other men of letters whom I hold in respect and reverence - but there is no question of my pleasure and pride in having it for myself.

It is customary for the recipient of this award to offer personal or scholarly comment on the nature and the direction of literature. At this particular time, however, I think it would be well to consider the high duties and the responsibilities of the makers of literature.

Such is the prestige of the Nobel award and of this place where I stand that I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession and in the great and good men who have practiced it through the ages.

Literature was not promulgated by a pale and emasculated critical priesthood singing their litanies in empty churches - nor is it a game for the cloistered elect, the tinhorn mendicants of low calorie despair.

Literature is as old as speech. It grew out of human need for it, and it has not changed except to become more needed.

The skalds, the bards, the writers are not separate and exclusive. From the beginning, their functions, their duties, their responsibilities have been decreed by our species.

Humanity has been passing through a gray and desolate time of confusion. My great predecessor, William Faulkner, speaking here, referred to it as a tragedy of universal fear so long sustained that there were no longer problems of the spirit, so that only the human heart in conflict with itself seemed worth writing about.

Faulkner, more than most men, was aware of human strength as well as of human weakness. He knew that the understanding and the resolution of fear are a large part of the writer's reason for being.

This is not new. The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.

Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit - for gallantry in defeat - for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally-flags of hope and of emulation.

I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature.

The present universal fear has been the result of a forward surge in our knowledge and manipulation of certain dangerous factors in the physical world.

It is true that other phases of understanding have not yet caught up with this great step, but there is no reason to presume that they cannot or will not draw abreast. Indeed it is a part of the writer's responsibility to make sure that they do.

With humanity's long proud history of standing firm against natural enemies, sometimes in the face of almost certain defeat and extinction, we would be cowardly and stupid to leave the field on the eve of our greatest potential victory.

Understandably, I have been reading the life of Alfred Nobel - a solitary man, the books say, a thoughtful man. He perfected the release of explosive forces, capable of creative good or of destructive evil, but lacking choice, ungoverned by conscience or judgment.

Nobel saw some of the cruel and bloody misuses of his inventions. He may even have foreseen the end result of his probing - access to ultimate violence - to final destruction. Some say that he became cynical, but I do not believe this. I think he strove to invent a control, a safety valve. I think he found it finally only in the human mind and the human spirit. To me, his thinking is clearly indicated in the categories of these awards.

They are offered for increased and continuing knowledge of man and of his world - for understanding and communication, which are the functions of literature. And they are offered for demonstrations of the capacity for peace - the culmination of all the others.

Less than fifty years after his death, the door of nature was unlocked and we were offered the dreadful burden of choice.

We have usurped many of the powers we once ascribed to God.

Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life or death of the whole world - of all living things.

The danger and the glory and the choice rest finally in man. The test of his perfectibility is at hand.

Having taken Godlike power, we must seek in ourselves for the responsibility and the wisdom we once prayed some deity might have.

Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope.

So that today, St. John the apostle may well be paraphrased: In the end is the Word, and the Word is Man - and the Word is with Men.


Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Etymology - Cupboard


Simply put, etymology is the study of the history of words, their origins, and how their form and meaning have changed over time.

Etymology is an early 14th century word derived from Greek word etumologíā -- from étumon, meaning 'true sense', and logía, meaning 'study'. Effectively, etymology is a study of the true sense of words. Etymology is pronounced et-uh-mol-uh-jee.

In this new series, I'm looking at some common, everyday words and discuss their etymology . . . where they came from, their development, and how they're used today. This exercise is an effort to help you learn about the words we take for granted today, and how using the proper word will help enhance your writing, as well as your reading.

Today's word is CUPBOARD --

The term cupboard comes from the original cup board -- literally a board for storing cups. This term goes back to the 12th century as cuppebord when cups and mugs were stored on boards, often stacked on top of each other to save space. When needed, the boards were taken down one at a time, the cups staying on the board as the server transferred them into the kitchen or dining hall . . . why carry 3-4 cups at a time when a board of them gets the job done faster?

By the 16th century, these cup boards were incorporated into an enclosed box to keep them cleaner (ie: free from rodents). Over the centuries, these ‘cupboards’ or cabinets were also used to keep rodents out of food.

Synonymous with cupboard are terms such as larder, pantry, dresser and press --

The term larder comes from the 13th century French word lardier, a place where where lard and other fats (butter, cheese, cream, etc) were stored. Because this room would have been very cool, meats would also have been stored here.

The larder should not be confused with a buttery though, which was originally a separate room where cream was churned into butter, and quite often where cheese was made. If storage space was limited in the buttery, then these items would have been stored in the larder.

The term pantry comes from the 13th century French word paneterie which is where bread and other baked good were stored, aka a bread room. The word paneterie gets its meaning from the word pain, the French word for bread . . . pain de beurre (bread with/and butter). Many people today still use the term pan when referring to sliced sandwich bread or bread baked in a traditional bread pan.

Today the word pantry serves multiple meanings--

The pantry is a room between the kitchen and dining room where food underwent final preparation before serving . . . ensuring plates were free of drips around the edges and generally that the presentation was good and the food still hot . . . and all there! It wouldn't do to have a hungry servant sneaking food off the plates of his lord and master ;-)

A pantry in today’s kitchen a tall and deep cupboard used to store tins and boxes of storable food items. Often times, this type of storage unit has shelves on the doors, and the interior has swinging doors of shelves that allow for further storage at the very rear of the cabinet.

A pantry can also be a small room lined with shelves for added storage and may also house a chest freezer and/or spare fridge (BTW, did you know fridge was derived from the refrigerator manufacturer Frigidaire? Fridge has become synonymous with all refrigerators, just as Hoover has with the vacuum). Or a modern pantry can be a tile-lined 'cold room' acting as a modern day larder.

The word dresser come from an 18th century French and Dutch words, dressoir, which means dresser. In this context, an enclosed cabinet with shallow shelves for storing cups and dishes.

Country style dressers included a display area on top of an enclosed cabinet so the lady of the house could display her best crockery. Sometimes country dressers included a caged area on the bottom where chickens were kept. The lady of the house either used the eggs in her own cooking , or she raised chickens and collected eggs to sell at the local market for what was called 'pin money' . . . paper notes of which were usually pinned inside the woman's clothing for safety! This is also where we get the phrase 'cottage industry'!

The word press comes from the Irish word prios which is a non-specific word for a place/cabinet/container to store things. Today, a press in Ireland is anything from the cabinets in your kitchen to your bedroom closet, and also a closet with shelves which also contained the hot water heater/immersion tank, also known as an airing cupboard for clothes or anything else you want to keep warm and dry.

How will you know the origin of words? Generally speaking, the origin can often be found in the word itself, such as cup board. When in doubt, Google 'entymology + the word' and it will all come clear.

I hope you'll enjoy this new series. If there's a word you'd like to know more about, email me and I'll add it to a future post.

Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

All new Hearticles: Articles with Heart

Sometimes when we have too much going at one time, we run the risk of dropping a ball or three. And no matter how many to-do lists we have, regardless of scheduling, and even with the best of intentions, the ball can drop.

And it did.

But . . . like the old adage goes about getting back on the horse, we're back in the saddle, balls in hand, and ready to bring you some amazing pieces we hope you will enjoy.

Here's a glimpse of what's up for the rest of the year --

The Story -- This is a three-piece series to help you plot your story . . . the beginning, the middle, and the end.

Tightening Your Writing -- This is another three-piece series to help you get rid of passive writing, show you how to get the most out of word usage, and how to avoid overwriting.

Keys to Writing Erotica -- This series will help you write a great erotica by effective use of emotion, making sure you have a good story, and creating engaging characters. Yes, even erotica stories need likeable characters and a good story, and sex isn't all about the physical.

Other articles include Writing an Effective Query Letter, How to Write a Back Cover Blurb, Writing the Dreaded Synopsis, Synopsis vs. Outline, and more. Author interviews, blog tours, book reviews and much more are also on the schedule.

Be sure to bookmark or follow this site, set us up on your browser favorites, or set up your RSS feed. The fun is about to begin!

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

January - The Door to the Year

January is the first month of the year in both the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The first day of the month is known as New Year's Day. And, on average, it's the coldest month of the year within most of the Northern Hemisphere.

The name January has its beginnings in Roman mythology, coming from the Latin word for door (ianua) – January is the door to the year. January is named after Janus, the god of the doorway.

Although March was originally the first month in the old Roman Calendar, January became the first month of the calendar year under Numa about 450 BC.

Historical names for January include its original Roman designation, Ianuarius, the Saxon term Wulf-monath (wolf month) and Charlemagne's designation Wintarmanoth (winter/cold month).

The first of January is not only the door to the new year, it's also a time when people make resolutions. Resolutions are new commitments an individual makes to a personal goal, project, the reforming of a habit, or a lifestyle change someone sets out to accomplish during year.

Popular resolutions usually revolve around self-improvements, such as losing weight, attitude changes, reducing stress, quitting smoking, etc. Other commitments include improving ones financial situation, career advancements, going back to school, being more independent, give more time to charities, become more environmentally responsible, or perhaps something as simple as watching less television or getting a hair cut or new style.

While success rates are low, it's important to recognize the efforts people make to better themselves and the environment around them. By and large, people have a desire to be the best they can be, and the change in a calendar year is the most popular time for people to set new goals in their lives, to make changes, and inspire others to be better in themselves and their outlooks.

I'm not much of a traditionalist when it comes to New Year's Resolutions. I believe that if one wants to make a change, there's no reason to wait until the first of January to do so . . . or the start of a new week or month. If one wants to change, just do it.

Resolutions and commitments are too easy to fail at when one loses the energy and drive to continue for so long. Let's face it, 365 days is a long time. Give me a goal to meet within a week -- no problem. But the whole year? It's too easy to say, I'll start again tomorrow. With that kind of thought, it's easy to fail. It becomes a game with the finishing line too far away.

With failure comes disappointment, and the pendulum can swing too far back in the other direction. Trying to lose 20 pounds but only succeed in 10? It's too easy to start picking up those cookies again. You might find you gain back that 10 and another 10 on top of it! People who don't take commitement seriously will laugh it off and say, "But really, I only gained 10 pounds." No you didn't. You lost 10 pounds then gained 20 back.

For myself, rather than resolutions, I set annual to-do lists. Call them goals, commitments or resolutions, but to me the items on the list are things I'd like to achieve, but I'm not going to berate myself if they don't all get done.

Some of the things on my 2011 To-Do List include:

-- Getting the rest of my Irish Pride series contracted for publication - Any publishers or agents out there reading this? I'd love to send you a partial. Just email me if you're interested!
-- Work on my WIP, The Diary, a bit more often if I want it published before April 2014 - 2014 is the 1000 year commemoration of the Battle of Clontarf in Dublin, the time period in which my story is set.
-- Give back within the industry - This includes writing more articles and helping aspiring authors through sites like Ask A Published Author.
-- Improve my work space - I've already started working on my own self-improvement by investing in a new notebook computer so I'm not tied to my desk all day. But if I have to be, I got myself a brilliant new chair and I'm making my writing space more writer friendly and less utilitarian. And I'm hoping to keep it tidier than in the past. No more piles if I can help it.
-- Get out more - If all this is starting to sound too much about work, it's not. I love the research end of writing so I'm taking more trips to locations I'm currently writing about. OK, living in Ireland and writing stories set here is a bit of a luxury. I know it and take full advantage of it. Staring out the car window as we drive through the countryside is research for me. Wandering through castles is research, too. And a lot of fun. AND a lot of exercise. Trust me on this one. It's not easy walking up those tight spiral stairs. They're higher than you think.

Notice I didn't list my tasks numerically or alphabetically? Doing that makes the whole process sound like a game, or puts one object on a higher priority status than another. They're equally important, and as I said above, this is not a game.

I'm also an avid knitter and crocheter so I have some projects planned for the year as well. My problem with this is I tend to put the cart before the horse. Meaning, I'll buy some yarn because it's so 'must have', but I don't have a pattern to go with it. That means my stash and my projects are a bit willy-nilly. As with my writing, my crafts have also gotten some clarity. Especially in this economy. If I want a yarn, I must have a pattern for it. While knitting for the sake of keeping my fingers busy in front of the tellie is fine, the finished garment must have a home. So I'll be going through my FO (finished object) stash and will start re-homing a few things! Or at least wear what I make, for goodness sake. I'm also making an effort to use some of the yarn in my stash.

Resolutions need not be just about the New Year. Sometimes our lives just need a bit of tidying . . . like Spring Cleaning. Yep, that's around the corner too. Start now. Don't wait for Spring to come. Be ready for it.

So, what are some of the resolutions, commitments, goals or things on your 2011 To-Do List?

Happy New Year everyone!!

~ Kemberlee