Catholic

Was Santa Claus actually born in upstate New York?

As we all know, yes, there is a Santa Claus -- a historical St. Nick, that is -- none other than the great Christian forefather Nicolaus of Myra, Turkey. Moviemaker Kirk Cameron tells his story in "Saving Christmas," this year's surprise Yuletide hit. The film -- predictably denounced by critics, militant atheists and Scrooges nationwide -- has defied its detractors, being held over weeks after its scheduled two-week run, which had to be expanded to additional theaters.

Cameron tells how the true-life Kris Kringle has been revered for centuries for his generosity. What few people realize is that in the year 325, he was one of the bishops bold enough to answer the request of Roman Emperor Constantine and appear at the First Council of Nicaea where he was a staunch defender of the faith and one of the authors of what today is known as the Nicene Creed.

So, what about the claims of journalist Carl M. Cannon, the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics, who says today's jolly old elf was born in the city of Troy, New York?

"Christmas Week 2014 has been fraught with contention in New York, but before we blame the politicians," writes Cannon, "we’d do well to remember that it was in the pages of a New York newspaper that Santa Claus first appeared on these shores some three years before Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence."

What sort of secular revisionist history is this? Is Cannon serious? Yes, and he says Santa Claus was birthed by American politics. What?!?

It is "a matter of historical record that Americans owe their familiarity with St. Nicholas in part to the rivalry between Jefferson’s devotees and the Federalist Party," writes Cannon. It was "in 1823 that an anonymous poem appeared (yes, in a newspaper in New York state) that fleshed out the image of Santa Claus -- the 'right jolly old elf' -- whom children of all ages carry in their heads to this day."

Cannon correctly points out that until then, St. Nicholas had not been associated with reindeer or elves.

Then, Cannon notes that "writing under the satirical pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker," famed American  author, essayist, biographer, historian and diplomat Washington Irving, best remembered for his short stories "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," authored a 1809 satirical book that kicked off the American Santa phenomenon.

Irving called it A History of New-York From the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty. "Much of Washington Irving’s satire eluded the author’s audience," writes Cannon. "His readers were simply mesmerized by tales of a guardian saint named Nicholas, who is depicted shimmying down chimneys to give leave presents for children on Christmas Eve. Irving drew on the traditions of early Dutch settlers who had brought with them from Holland tales of 'Sinterklaas' and his sleigh," writes Cannon.

But that was just the beginning of the American version of St. Nick, continues Cannon. Flying reindeer "first make an appearance in 1821 in a volume titled The Children’s Friend, one of the first books published in America," writes Cannon. Then, two years later, "Orville L. Holley, editor of an upstate New York semi-weekly newspaper named the Troy Sentinel, published an anonymous poem titled 'A Visit From St. Nicholas.' You know it by another name, taken from the first line of the poem: '’Twas the Night Before Christmas.'

"Its author was later revealed to be Clement C. Moore, a local theologian and scholar."

Political cartoonist Thomas Nast illustrated the poem -- creating "the image of Saint Nick that dances in our heads to this day," writes Cannon:

His eyes-how they twinkled! His dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow, And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath. He had a broad face and a little round belly, That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!

And although Kirk Cameron is correct about the historic St. Nicholas, now you know -- as Paul Harvey used to say -- "the rest of the story."

England's Christmas is threatened by ... streakers?

Reverent Christmas observances in Britain  are increasingly the target of irreverent pranksters -- who are disrupting such solemn events as Midnight Mass.

"Priests are voicing growing fears," writes John Bingham for the Telegraph, "because of invasions by raucous drinkers and even streakers."

"Streaking in December in England?" asks  a staff writer at Healthista. "You have got to be bonkers."

American filmmaker Kirk Cameron examines a number of such threats in his film "Saving Christmas." The hit was held over beyond its scheduled limited run in a number of venues nationwide -- and new theaters were added -- despite a campaign by activist atheists to slur the movie. He says Christmas is also threatened by Christians in many cases -- believers who preach that celebrating Jesus' birth is sinful.

British clergy didn't blame atheists or fundamentalists.  Instead, drunks and exhibitionists were cited. A survey by the British Catholic magazine, the Tablet, discovered 50 venues where festivities have been scaled back or cancelled altogether due to disruptions in years past.

"Priests at more than 50 deaneries – groups of parishes – across England and Wales contacted this week confirmed," wrote the Tablet's Joanna Moorhead, Liz Dodd and Katherine Backler, "that there has been a decline in the number of churches offering a Mass that ushers in Christmas Day on the stroke of midnight.

"In some pastoral areas it will not be offered at all, while in many the first Mass of the nativity is now scheduled for as early as 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve."

Many priests reported problems with drunks infiltrating services that begin just as the pubs close.

Some congregations have been forced to boost security, effectively putting bouncers "at the doors to deter those overcome with festive excess from making unscheduled appearances," writes Bingham.

"Monsignor David Hogan, of St Bernadette’s, in Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough, estimated that less than a quarter of parishes in his area now offer mass at midnight on Christmas Eve.

“Last time we had it, we ended up with a drunk trying to get the doors off the church,” he told the Tablet.

“So we’ve made the decision not to have Mass when people are pouring out of the pubs sloshed.”

"One parish in York has brought the mass forward to 8 p.m. after last year’s service was interrupted by a streaker," writes Bingham.  "Meanwhile a church in Havant had to call police three times after drunken yobs threw bricks at worshipers during Christmas prayers.

But other churches are holding firm with tradition. Father Michael Marsden of Our Lady of Lourdes in Hessle, East Yorks, who will be presiding over the only midnight mass in his immediate area, said: “Going to midnight mass at Christmas used to be one of the hallmarks of being a Catholic, it is sad if that is changing.”

So, why would anybody be so determined to keep you from enjoying Christmas?

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Annually, they rage against Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus -- livid that they might be honored in school pageants, portrayed on the courthouse lawn or praised in public concerts. But why?

"Why do some atheists embarrass themselves year after year trying to eradicate Christmas from American culture?" asks Doug Giles for Clash Daily. "Is it because they are crusaders for equality, secularism’s saviors and humanism’s heroes? I’m sure that’s what they tell themselves when they’re pouting on their couches all alone on Christmas Eve after every single one of their friends has dumped them?"

"Why is Christmas such a big deal?" asks author Jerry Newcombe for the Christian Post. "Let's put it this way: why do groups like the ACLU, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Americans United for Separation of Church and State invest time, money and energy to fight any vestige of religious meaning to the holiday?"

"Why do some people hate Christmas today? Why is it that some people are aggressively opposed to the message of God becoming man?" writes Bruce Goettsche  on the Union Church website.

Well, this isn't exactly the first time in history that it's happened.

"In Matthew 2 we see the first example of this hostility," writes Goettsche. "The Magi arrived in Jerusalem and asked King Herod, 'Where is He who is born the King of the Jews?' Herod had already executed his favorite wife, her two sons, and one of his other sons. Herod was not a nice man!" Threatened that a new king had been born, he "gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under." He was enraged at the idea of God sending a deliverer, a Messiah -- particularly one that threatened his status.

And now, today, "people don’t like this message that they need a 'Savior,'” observes Goettsche. "They feel they are doing just fine on their own.  They don’t want to be told that their life is unacceptable before God.  They are offended by the truth. "

But it's that truth which must be proclaimed, says movie-maker and film star Kirk Cameron. His film "Saving Christmas" has touched a nerve in the American psyche this Yuletide. Scheduled for a short, two-week run in theaters nationwide, the film has been held over in major cities -- and expanded to even more cinemaplexes across America.

In it, Cameron, a frequent focus of irked atheists, says that Christmas is a wonderful time of the year in which we all pause to celebrate the birth of the King of kings, the savior who changed human history more than anyone else.

That message enrages atheists -- who have targeted Cameron for attack and mockery.

"The reason some rage," writes Newcombe, "is that they hate God and love their sin, and bringing up Jesus in December is not the way they wanted to finish off the year. Indeed, Christ really rains on their parade — and they love their parade."

"Christmas, if you really get down to the brass tacks of it," writes Giles, "isn’t about reindeer, elves and iPhones, but about mankind’s sin problem and what God did to remedy it by sending His Son.

"When you see the atheist attack manger scenes," notes author Janice Crouse, "you might think, 'this is an innocuous kind of thing. What do they have against a manger scene for crying out loud?'

"It gives you some idea of how powerful Jesus Christ is. If He were not powerful, what would they care?" writes  Newcombe.  "So why the opposition to Jesus, at Christmastime or otherwise? Jesus summed it up in one sentence: 'Light has come into the world, but men prefer darkness because their deeds are evil.'"

What if small towns fought back to save Christmas?

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Officials in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas are defying atheist grinches trying to shut down a Christmas display on the county courthouse lawn. Baxter County officials "rebuffed atheists’ efforts to seek the removal of a nativity scene from a courthouse lawn," reports Billy Hallowell for the Blaze.

And they're not the only ones. "Nativity scenes will appear in nine State Capitols this Christmas—five of them due to the work of the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a national public interest law firm," reports Tom Ciesielka for Charisma News. 

And of course, there's film and TV superstar Kirk Cameron, whose movie "Saving Christmas" expanded into more cities this weekend and is being held over past its planned two-week limited run nationwide. In it, the star of Fireproof and the original Left Behind films stands up with those who would attack any celebration of Christ's birth.

Standing up to out-of-town Scrooges, officials in rural Mountain Home, Arkansas, are telling complaining atheists to leave their creche alone. "The nativity scene," reports Hallowell, "is erected each year on the Baxter County Courthouse lawn  in memory of Coralee Faith Spencer, a deceased local woman."

Following court guidelines, the display includes secular elements as well, including a Santa Claus and a Christmas tree, the Associated Press reported.

And it includes a disclaimer proclaiming local citizens' right to express their religious beliefs: “During the Holiday Season," reads the plaque, "the County of Baxter salutes liberty. Let these festive lights and times remind us that we are keepers of the flame of liberty and our legacy of freedom. Whatever your religion or beliefs, enjoy the holidays. This display is owned and erected by private citizens of Baxter County.”

The American Humanist Association is livid and demanded the nativity scene be removed. Their protests have been ignored.

The county’s new resolution, which was adopted by all 11 quorum court members, cited a 1994 Supreme Court Case under which nativities are permitted so long as they include a disclaimer. Officials also noted that no public workers were involved in erecting, funding or taking down the Arkansas courthouse display.

Meanwhile in Chicago, Thomas More Society is celebrating the eighth year that statues of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus have resided in a small stable at the Illinois State Capitol. The Christian law firm has also helped secure permits for Nativity scenes to be displayed this year in the state capitols of Florida, Georgia, Rhode Island, Texas and on the Governor's Mansion lawn in Oklahoma.

"These Nativity displays represent classic free speech and the free exercise of faith by private citizens in the public square," explained Tom Brejcha, president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Society. "However, the issue has not been without controversy," he added. "Nativity displays represent a constitutionally protected expression by private citizens in traditional or designated public forums, where the sole role of the government must be that of a viewpoint-neutral gatekeeper assuring open access for all citizens to have their 'say.' Such private expressions of religious belief in the public squares of our nation are not merely tolerable but fully deserving of robust legal protection."

Kinda cool to know that lots of people are working together to save Christmas -- or at least preserve our right to celebrate it!

More than Christmas is saved in San Jose

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Saving Christmas took on a joyful new meaning in San Jose, California, the morning after a devastating fire turned historic Holy Cross Church into a burned-out shell. "The Rev. Firmo Mantovani and bleary-eyed members of his parish were stunned," writes Jose Rodriguez for the San Jose Mercury News,  by a "wondrous sight."

"I can't believe what I'm seeing," said 86-year-old parishioner Sam Arlotta.

"Milagro!" added Cecilia Calderon, using the Spanish word for miracle. "God loves us very much."

With Christmas only weeks away and Kirk Cameron's movie "Saving Christmas" playing only 15 minutes away at the Century 20 Oakridge theater on Blossom Hill Road, parishioners had wondered what the Yuletide had in store for them.

"Standing on Jackson Street in the city's Northside neighborhood, they gazed through a fence and the open front doors at the heavy, 10-foot-tall, Italian-made gilded wooden crucifix that somehow survived the four-alarm fire Sunday afternoon," writes Rodriguez.

"Like Arlotta and Calderon, Mantovani figured the crucifix and everything else inside the century-old church had been incinerated.

To see photos, CLICK HERE. 

San Jose fire Battalion Chief Richard Toledo couldn't explain it either. "I wish I could tell you," he told Rodriguez. "It was open to all of the elements -- the fire and smoke and the collapsing roof, and yet it's there in almost perfect shape."

Cause of the fire remains unknown, but removing the historic crucifix, the fire chief called in a crew trained to use ropes in human rescue situations.

As a grateful pastor and prayerful parishioners watched, "firefighters carefully probed the charred beams holding up the cross," reports Rodriguez. "A lone firefighter lowered a special rope from a tall fire engine ladder into the gaping hole above the altar and crucifix. Firefighters below carefully fastened the rope around the arms of the image of Jesus."

And they lowered the antique cross to the ground.

Parishioner Tino Quinones was astonished. "It doesn't look like he has any damage. It's amazing!"

The church was founded more than a century ago to serve Italian immigrants.

"The dollar amount for damages to the church -- which was insured -- was anybody's guess Monday," reported Rodriguez.

In joyful tears, parishioner Dorothy Bua approached Mantovani.

"Is there anything we can do you for you, Father?"

He answered, "I am fine.

"Just keep up the spirit."

And that's exactly the message of Cameron's movie -- now playing in theaters nationwide.  CLICK HERE for times and theaters near you.