Showing posts with label Saint Nicholas. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Saint Nicholas. Show all posts

Dec 13, 2013

Holiday Wordology

As we are between Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, thought I might add some words used often during the holidays, and their origins.

Mirth - Both mirth and merry come from an Old English word meaning “joy” or “pleasure.” These words are themselves derived from an older German root meaning “short-lasting.” Thus, something merry is short-lived—although the consequences may not be.

In the 17th century, the word “merry” could include decidedly earthier connotations, such as a merry-bout of sexual intercourse. Sometimes a merry-bout resulted in a “merry-begot,” an illegitimate child.

Merry - The word merry also gave us the merrythought, which we now call the wishbone. The custom of pulling apart the wishbone dates back at least to Roman times and may have evolved from the Etruscan practice of alectryomancy, the practice of divining the future using rooster clavicles. According to Roman legend, the Etruscans selected the wishbone because its “V” shape resembled a human groin, the repository of life. Thus, the wishbone was seen as an appropriate way to unravel life’s mysteries.

In the 17th century, it was sometimes thought that whoever ended up with the longer piece of the merrythought would marry first. Some believed the person with the longer piece would get whatever wish he chose. English settlers brought the practice with them to the New World, and we still pull the wishbone apart today.  The proper term for the bone we pull apart is “furcula.” It comes from the Latin furca, meaning “pitchfork.”

Fork - It is not particularly a holiday word, but used more often during the holidays. Before becoming the word for what was then a two-pronged utensil, the term was used in England to refer to a forked instrument used by torturers. Although the fork seems like an obvious tool, it was not used for eating until the eighth or ninth century, and then only by the nobility in parts of what is now the Middle East. Popular legend has it that Catherine dei Medici brought the fork to France from Italy when she married King Henry I of France in the 16th century. However, the use of the word to mean a table fork came a hundred years earlier.

Beer and Ale -  The word “beer,” stems from Latin bibere, meaning “to drink.” The Germanic word for beer was aluth, from which we get our English word “ale.” Ale also gave us the English word “bridal,” because in the Middle Ages, ale was a noun that meant a feast. A bride ale was literally a feast in honor of a marriage.

Sage -  The herb sage is associated with Thanksgiving, but historically, sage’s primary use has been medicinal. This is reflected in its botanical name, Salvia officinalis. In Latin, salvus meant “healthy,” a word that also gave us the English “safe.” Sage has been used to treat inflamed gums, excessive perspiration, memory loss, depression, sore throat, swollen sinuses, acne, toenail fungus, hot flashes, and painful menstruation, among others. Because sage is also used to combat diarrhea, gas, and bloating, it is the perfect herb for a holiday that often results in overindulgence.

Tofurky - This relatively new holiday word makes many cringe. It is a turkey substitute created in 2000 by Turtle Island Foods. Tofurky is made from tofu, wheat gluten, oil, and “natural flavors,” which include certain yeasts that lend Tofurky a “meaty” taste. Tofu is fermented soy bean curd valued for its high protein content, as well as its ability to absorb flavors from other foods. Tofu is probably best enjoyed without thinking of the origins of the word, literally “rotten beans,” which come from Chinese dou (“beans”) and fu (“rotten”).

Christmas - This word comes from the Old English words Cristes moesse, 'the mass or festival of Christ'. The first celebration took place in Rome about the middle of the fourth century. The exact date of the Nativity is not known, but even in pre-Christian times the period from December 25 to January 6, now known as "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was considered a special time of year. The abbreviation Xmas, thought as sacrilegious by some, is entirely appropriate. The letter X (chi) is the first letter in the Greek word for Christ.

Reindeer - Did you know this word is actually redundant. Rein is Scandinavian for 'reindeer', so reindeer translates to 'reindeer deer'. It came to English from Old Norse hreindyri.

Mistletoe is thought to be based on a German word for bird excrement (mix) from the fact that the plant is propagated in it. Some think it is derived from another German word (mash) which refers to the stickiness of the berries. It is combined with an Old English word (toe) meaning 'twig'. This shrub usually grows on broad-leaved trees like apple, lime, and poplar.

Christmas Carol is a term which originally referred to a non-religious ring dance accompanied by singing. Eventually it came to mean a merry song with a tune that could be danced to. The Italian friars who lived with St. Francis of Assisi were the first to compose these songs in the early 1400s. Since the nineteenth century, carols have been sung in place of hymns in many churches on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Saint Nicholas was not only wealthy but modest, and he liked to help people in need without drawing attention to himself. Poor families would often find a gold piece or well-filled purse without knowing where it had come from. His American successor, Santa Claus, carried on the tradition.

Poinsettias have been a symbol of Christmas in the United States since the 1820s when it was first shipped to North America by Joel Poinsett, the American minister to Mexico.

Wassail - It comes from the Middle English waes haeil, which means 'be in good health' or 'be fortunate'. Wassailing was the Old English custom of toasting the holiday and each other's health. Wassail is also the name of the spiced apple beverage used in such toasting and has been drunk since around 1300.

Dec 14, 2010

Saint Nikolas and Santa Claus

Though they have similar outfits, Nikolaus is not to be confused with Santa Claus, who Germans call the Weihnachtsmann, or Father Christmas. They are two different people. In fact, many religious families try to focus more on Nikolaus earlier in December to insure that Christmas is actually about Jesus’ birth, and not presents from an Americanized and commercialized Santa.

Each year on December 6, Germans remember the death of Nikolas of Myra (now part of modern Turkey), who died on that day in 346. He was a Greek Christian bishop known for miracles and giving gifts secretly, and is now the patron saint of little children, sailors, merchants and students. Known as Nikolas the Wonderworker for his miracles, he is also identified with Santa Claus. Beliefs and traditions about Nikolaus were probably combined with German mythology, particularly regarding stories about the bearded pagan god Odin, who also had a beard and a bag to capture naughty children.

The custom of leaving shoes out began because the historical St. Nicholas had a reputation for leaving secret gifts, such as coins, in people’s shoes overnight. Kids traditionally put out their boots, though shoes or stockings will suffice for those without boots. Dirty boots are unacceptable. Children polish their boots to show they’ve been good. They usually place just one boot outside their door so they don’t appear too greedy.

Dec 23, 2009

Santa and Saint Nicholas

What's the Difference Between Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas?

Santa Claus belongs to childhood;
St. Nicholas models for all of life.

Santa Claus was developed to boost Christmas sales, the commercial Christmas message;
St. Nicholas told the story of Christ and peace, goodwill toward all, the hope-filled Christmas message.

Santa Claus encourages consumption;
St. Nicholas encourages compassion.

Santa Claus appears each year to be seen and heard for a short time;
St. Nicholas surrounds us always.

Santa Claus flies through the air from the North Pole;
St. Nicholas walked the earth caring for those in need.

Santa Claus isn't bad;
St. Nicholas is just better.

Dec 4, 2009

Saint Nicholas Day

St Nicholas died on December 6, 343 and is remembered every year on the 6th of December. It continues in many places, and some cultures still use this occasion to give gifts to children. There are still celebrations in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Milwaukee also has a strong tradition of celebrating "St Nick’s Day," due to its large immigrant German community.

The Dutch celebrate the 'Feast of Sinterklaas', (Santa Claus is a variation of the name), as we celebrate Christmas. Some celebrate on December 5 (like Christmas eve). The myth  involving Sinterklaas is that he rides on his white horse across the roofs of houses, and that his small helpers, who are entirely black and called Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), climb down the chimneys and put presents in people's shoes. Children leave a carrot in the shoes for his horse.

St Nicholas (or St Nickolas) was Bishop of Myra (Turkey) and remains the Patron Saint of sailors, fishermen, the falsely accused, pawnbrokers, thieves and a number of cities.

You can see from the picture why old pictures of Santa Claus show the bishop's miter (hat) and staff.

Many miracles and good deeds are attributed to St Nicholas. One relates how a father, who could not afford a dowry for his three daughters (which would mean they were unable to marry, and might have been sold), would find little bags of gold coins thrown through his window, under cover of night. The bags landed on stockings left to dry before the fire. This is why people hang stockings on the fireplace at Christmas, hoping for them to be filled with goodies.

Growing up, we celebrated St. Nicholas day by throwing small bags of candy on neighbor's porches at dusk, then running away. We were always home in time to enjoy the candy treats thrown on our porch.