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December 5, 2005

A Visit from Saint Nicholas
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 11:47 PM * 101 comments

Tonight is St. Nicholas Eve.

Tonight we leave out our shoes, in hopes that St. Nicholas will leave a chocolate or other small gift. Tonight St. Nicholas rides his white horse, giving presents.

St. Nicholas, bishop of Myra, is the patron saint of New York City. (That’s why, in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, Santa Claus arrives last in the train. It’s a patron’s celebration.)

St. Nicholas, as well as being the patron saint of New York City, is the patron of Greece, Russia, the Kingdom of Naples, Sicily, Lorraine, the Diocese of Liège; many cities in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Belgium; Campen in the Netherlands; Corfu in Greece; Freiburg in Switzerland; and Moscow in Russia. He is patron of children, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, thieves and murderers, among many others. He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need.

St. Nicholas is a saint in the Catholic and the Orthodox churches, and is honored among Protestants. When the Twin Towers fell, they fell on St. Nicholas’ Orthodox church, which held some of his relics. Those relics were never found, and are now mixed with those of other New Yorkers from that attack.

When you see a statue of a saint with three children in a tub at his feet, that’s St. Nicholas. When you see the three gold balls on the pawn-brokers’ signs, those too honor St. Nicholas. Those balls represent the three golden balls that St. Nicholas threw through a window to pay the dowries of three young ladies who would otherwise have met a bad end. The story says those balls fell in the ladies’ shoes or stockings hung by the fire to dry; the oranges that are traditionally put in Christmas stockings are symbolically those same golden spheres.

We should not speak here of Black Peter, who accompanies St. Nicholas on his rounds. Black Peter beats bad children with his cane. You were wondering what candy canes were all about, eh?

But we have all been good. We have put out our shoes.

Comments on A Visit from Saint Nicholas:
#1 ::: Mike Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 02:12 AM:

Um. I thought the candy canes were symbolic of his bishop's staff.

#2 ::: TH ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 05:51 AM:

Why should we not talk about St. Nicholas's Helpers? They who are more fun and earthier than the holy man.

And of course, they are sometimes really scary.

Of course, if you read the stories of St. Nicholas, those are really scary too. Dismembering students and salting them doesn't make for a family-friendly homily. (Also not school-friendly. I was quietly and friendlywise not invited again to play St. Nicholas in an elementary school after I read the original legends. And I did try to make them a little more harmless.)

#3 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 07:07 AM:

I got a lump of coal for christmas once.

#4 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 07:17 AM:

There's a French song about Saint Nicholas that begins with a reference to his being the Patron of school kids. That goes well with his being the Patron of thieves and murderers.

I think that, at least up to 40 years ago, he was the character most associated with Christmas in France. In Quebec, we had Pere Noel, which means Father Christmas, who looked and acted exactly like jolly Santa Claus. I always thought Saint Nicholas looked creepy, kind of like a really cranky Gandalf.

#5 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 08:27 AM:

It must get confusing to be simultaneously the patron saint of thieves, murderers, judges and victims of miscarriages of justice. What's he expected to do if a guilty murderer comes up before the bench? Seems like a conflict of saintly interest...

(also, er, `other New Yorkers'? St. Nicholas was a New Yorker? *confused*)

#6 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 08:47 AM:

St. Nicholas, patron of New York since it was New Amsterdam, is a New Yorker.

#7 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 09:02 AM:

He was an emigrant, but he settled in really well, even if his emigration was rather more postumous than most.

In Greece -- did you know the Greek Orthodox church has never had a Reformation? -- there's a legend about St Paul going around (as he did) converting the Hellenic gods who will convert to Christianity. In that legend, Poseidon converts, and becomes Nicholas, bishop of Myra, but can't help doing some of his old tricks like calming storms and earthquakes and giving dowries to poor girls.

#8 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 09:30 AM:

I was sent this card last week by a Dutch friend: http://www.boomerang.nl/index.php?serve=cybercards/0/1/381

In the Netherlands, 'Sinterklaas' is the major gift-giving time of year, whereas Christmas is quieter and more overtly religous. I like it that way.

#9 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 09:44 AM:

Thanks for the data -- I had figured (based purely on ignorance and being told this about the Christmas tree) that most of our Christmas rituals were holdovers from Pagan celebration of the solistice -- interesting to know that the stockings at least are from Christian tradition. Also a fun fact about the canes.

#10 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 10:13 AM:

Saint Nicholas needs your help. (Or at least, the St. Nicholas Center does.) They're looking for photographs of St. Nicholas Churches all over the world.

Perhaps someone with a digital camera could pop over to Staten Island (for example) to help out.

#11 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 10:23 AM:

In English use, it's probably more accurate to put the Christmas tree into the "invention of tradition" category than the "holdover" category, since it was introduced to England only in the 19th century by Prince Albert. (Reception in Canada was a little earlier, and may have been different in the U.S. as well.) For that matter, "modern" Christmas trees seem to be about of sixteenth-century origin in Germany.

There are related customs which are holdovers. Putting up evergreen and holly boughs is a much older custom going back to Roman times and specifically criticised in the late patristic period. Holly seems to have been fairly effectively "baptised" by finding multiple symbols of Christ' passion in it, but the same cannot be said for, say, mistletoe.

#12 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 10:29 AM:

Man, alien anthropologists are going to make a fortune when the write Coming of Age on Terra.

"One night a year is dedicated to a dead holy man from another landmass. The youths expect the late man, who was killed for his diety and who continues to act in support of those who call upon him, to visit during the night while they are dormant. Terrans in this subculture use outergarments to protect their lower appendages from extremes of temperature and the unevenness of the planetary surface. The youths leave these outergarments out for the dead man (who died 1500 planetary orbits before the landmass from which the food in question was discovered by his cultural descendants) to fill with unhealthy but desirable food substances.

Shortly thereafter, the youths hope the dead man, or another dead man who may be the same or may be ficticious, visits again to bring them iPods."

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 10:43 AM:

I had heard that the Xmas tree tradition had started in north-America and that it had started with the Hessian mercenaries who'd stayed around after the Revolutionary War. Not true?

#14 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 11:10 AM:

I got a lump of coal once also. It's been described as a 'do-it-yourself diamond kit'.

#15 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 11:17 AM:

That'll work only if you're from Krypton, P J.

#16 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 11:21 AM:

The first fully documented appearance in North America is, AFAIK, in Canada, in 1781 (Baroness Riedesel, in Sorel, Quebec). Baron Riedesel was a Brunswicker, which is, from a military point of view, similar enough to a Hessian (i.e. German troops in the service of the English Crown). However, there is also a vaguer tradition that they may have been introduced earlier in the Revolutionary War by other German troops.

The origin of the Christmas tree in the sixteenth century in Lutheran Germany does seem to be pretty well documented, however, so it would have been about two centuries old by the time it was introduced into the English-speaking world.

#17 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 11:27 AM:

So, I wasn't too far off, James? The Christmas Tree's origin appears to be German. The next question then would be whether or not this German tradition has pagan roots.

#18 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 11:32 AM:

The Christmas tree didn't *start* in the US. It was a German custom that migrated here, possibly by the Hessian troops -- but just as likely from the Germans who settled here...

The custom really took off in Victorian times, courtesy of Prince Albert.

The pagan connection is that certain cultures used to hang sacrifices on trees (Norse, in particular) at certain times of the year (e.g. Winter Solstice). Eventually, the sacrifices were modified -- and breads or cookies were hung on the tree (think gingerbread men) instead of dead bodies.

#19 ::: theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 11:37 AM:

I well remember Poul Anderson's merchant prince Nicholas van Rijn citing his namesake as "the patron saint of merchants -- and thieves." But I didn't know he was New York's as well.

I did know that St. Clare was the patron saint of television, though. I found that out at Assisi, so I didn't need to consult this.

#20 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 11:55 AM:

The pagan connection to the Xmas tree should make O'Reilly's followers very happy.

#21 ::: Jude ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 12:02 PM:

The story I was brought up on about the Christmas tree was that when St Boniface, one of the early English missionaries to Germany, cut down a pagan sacred oak he told its worshippers that rather than bowing to perishable things they should worship Christ, whose mercy is ever green, as symbolised by a small fir tree growing among the roots of the oak.

However Willibald's Life of Boniface, unlike "The Ladybird Book of Christmas Customs", only has the cutting-down bit so it looks like the rest of the story accreted later.

I decorate my potted palm anyway. It stays green for me all year no matter how I neglect it and doesn't drop needles in my food, so it deserves a bit of glamour.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 12:10 PM:

It must get confusing to be simultaneously the patron saint of thieves, murderers, judges and victims of miscarriages of justice. What's he expected to do if a guilty murderer comes up before the bench? Seems like a conflict of saintly interest...

Nicholas is not unique in having such a conflict of interest. For instance, St Barbara (the origin of the Rapunzel story) caused a tower to be built with three windows to symbolise her conversion to Christianity. She was also executed by her father, who was then killed by a meteorite. She is therefore patroness of both builders and artillerymen.

- abi, off to celebrate Sinterklaas with her Dutch class

#23 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 12:34 PM:

Holly seems to have been fairly effectively "baptised" by finding multiple symbols of Christ' passion in it, but the same cannot be said for, say, mistletoe

See The Holly and the Ivy, which has a chorus beloved of the pagans, but verses that are explicitly Christian.

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
of all the trees that are in the wood,
the holly wears the crown

Which puzzled me when I was a kid, because "holly" brings to mind for me "waist-high shrub", not "tree". Also please wave goodbye to the ivy, which never appears again.

The rising of the sun, and the running of the deer,
the playing of the merry organ,
sweet singing in the choir.

(This is the chorus)

The holly bears a berry as red as any blood
and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
to do poor sinners good.

(Chorus)

The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn
and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
on Christmas Day in the morn

(Chorus)

The holly bears a blossom as white as any flower
and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
to be our sweet saviour.

(chorus)

The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall
and Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
for to redeem us all.

#24 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 12:45 PM:

The mistletoe was sacred to the Druids, for a number of reasons. First, only the Oak mistletoe, a parasitic plant that prefers Oaks for its hosts, was sacred; this is because it was the smallest of all trees, but grew atop the very tallest. (I'm surprised they didn't baptize this as symbolizing "the last shall be first" or something.) Second, the Druids knew how to make, from its VERY toxic berry, a medicine useful in the treatment of tuberculosis, which was pretty rampant in Celtic countries. This second thing is part of how the Druids maintained their tyrannical power in Ireland, for example.

#25 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 12:57 PM:

"Second, the Druids knew how to make, from its VERY toxic berry, a medicine useful in the treatment of tuberculosis, which was pretty rampant in Celtic countries. This second thing is part of how the Druids maintained their tyrannical power in Ireland, for example."

nifty!

#26 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 01:09 PM:

"I got a lump of coal once also. It's been described as a 'do-it-yourself diamond kit'."

Oh, that's wonderful. I might have to steal that idea. I'd include a pair of Vise Grips, too . . .

***

You can buy "Lump of Coal" chewing gum around this time of year. It comes in a little red sack with a drawstring.

* * *

One of David Sedaris' live performance pieces describes his attempts to learn about a northern European tradition which pairs Santa with "six to eight black men." Hilarious.

#27 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 01:55 PM:

The whole patron saint thing is pretty interesting. Near as I can tell, the patron of the Archdiocise of Seattle is the Archangel Michael, and the patron of the state is the Blessed Virgin Mary herself. There dosen't seem to be a specific patron for the city proper.

Two big names there, and it makes me wonder exactly how much bandwidth either might have to intercede for our aggressive pedestrians who believe you can *run* into a marked crosswalk without warning on a rainy day and expect 35 mph traffic to magically stop. (Maybe Moses would be more helpful...)

Plus there's the volcano/lahar, earthquake/tsunami and rainfall/landside problems, all calling for potentially high-volume intercession.

How does a patron saint get identified anyway? Do the locals pick? Preponderance of evidence? Assignment by a bureaucrat in Vatican City? IMWTK!

#28 ::: Hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 01:56 PM:

Mistletoe was sacred to a great many people, it seems. Since before the time of the ancient Greeks, it was believed to have mystical powers. It was believed to do everything from extinguish fires, to ward off evil spirits and witches.

The word mistletoe comes from the Anglo-Saxon words 'mistel' and 'tan', and means 'dung on a twig'. It got the name because of an ancient belief that it was propagated from bird droppings (which in turn is based on the belief that life could spontaneously spring from dung). Interestingly, botanists discovered that the plant was propagated by birds who ate the seeds, and then spread the seeds in their droppings. Those ancient folk knew more than we think sometimes.

Although the berries are poisonous (to humans at least) mistletoe was believed to be an antidote to poison. Go figure.

Kissing under the mistletoe comes from the ancient Greek festival of Saturnalia. It was later used in marriage rites, because it was believe to bestow fertility.

Pretty interesting history for a hemiparasite.

#29 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 02:46 PM:

Xopher -- cite?

On the "TB medicine from mistletoe" claim?

It isn't true. It isn't in Caesar's one page discussion of druids, there's no archaeological evidence, it isn't in any of the Irish or Welsh druidic poetry, and it isn't in any of the late Irish stories that mention druids -- or the Mabinogion either. We know they cut mistletoe with a sickle, Caesar says so, any speculation about what they did with it or why they cut it is just that, speculation.

Furthermore, if there were a TB medicine available from it, do you think people wouldn't have rediscovered it since? There are people dying of resistant TB even now -- don't you think if this were true, it would be being worked on? After all, the medicines from the real Celtic magic trees, the willow and the elder, are in common use now.

(At least you didn't say it cures cancer, that's the one that really makes me furious. Morgan Llewellyn is always saying that in her neo-pagan Celtic retellings, and I think it's the most irresponsible thing possible. I'm convinced some poor desperate cancer-victim is going to read that and kill themselves with a mistletoe berry instead of going through chemo.)

#30 ::: Margaret Organ-Kean ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 03:16 PM:

At the house we lived in before this, we had a holly tree. It was about 12 to 15 feet tall.

Shapewise, it was quite shrubby, until the landlady decided it would look better as a tree (we do not necessarily agree on this) and trimmed it accordingly. It does look quite tree-like now.

#31 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 03:20 PM:

Margaret - I once had neighbors who topped and stripped the branches from a large mimosa tree in their front yard with the intent of removing it.

Before they were able to dig it out, it grew back out on top and looked for all the world like a palm tree, so they kept it.

Unintentional topiary abounds.

#32 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 03:36 PM:

What's that gardening term? Volunteers? We have a coral tree which disconcertingly now has a palm tree sprouting from its middle (No, wait. Growing up through it). We didn't notice it until the palm fronds appeared about 2 feet above the top of the coral.

Not quite topiary; it looks like a beanie on top of the coral.

#33 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 04:44 PM:

Interesting. I know an entirely different song about holly:

The holly bears a blossom
As white as the snow
And Mary with Jesus
To Bethlehem did go.

And Mary bore Jesus Christ
Our Saviour for to be
And the best tree in the greenwood
It was the holly.

The holly bears a leaf
As green as the grass
And Mary bore Jesus
Who died on the cross.

And Mary bore Jesus Christ, etc

The holly bears a berry
As blood it is red
And Mary bore Jesus
Who rose from the dead.

And Mary bore Jesus Christ, etc.

Note that it rhymes best in Received Pronunciation, since otherwise "grass" and "cross" don't sound that much alike.

#34 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 04:49 PM:

"And a partridge in a peartree."

That line makes more sense when you find out that a partridge is, in French, a perdrix, which is pronounced pear-dree.

#35 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 05:38 PM:

Abi: I think that one is the Sans-Day Carol, but I'm not at home to double-check. Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band's "A Tapestry of Carols" has both that one and the Holly and the Ivy.

#36 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 06:00 PM:

We have a holly tree on one side of our stoop (technically, my upstairs neighbor's side) and I like it, but he doesn't. I don't think he dislikes it enough to ask the board to take it out, though.

I never got coal in my stocking, but the Christmas I was seven, I didn't get any presents. Dusting was part of my job and my father (like his mother) would literally test all surfaces for dust. When he realized that I must have seen my unwrapped presents when I stood on a chair to dust the top of their closet doors, he took them back to the PX and any presents from anybody else either went back to them or were given away. I "hunted" for my presents, you see.... It's okay, they were a Barbie and Ken and I probably wouldn't have used them anyway.

#37 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 06:26 PM:

On the first day of Yule-time,
My true love gave to me:
A game bird in a pear tree.

On the next day of Yule-time
My true love gave to me:
Two ring-necked doves
And a game bird in a pear tree.

[...]

On the twelfth day of Yule-time
My true love gave to me:
Twelve men who played drums
Ten-and-one with pipes
Ten lords who leapt high
Nine dames who danced
Eight maids who milked kine
Six-plus-one swans that swam
Six geese that laid eggs
Five... gooooold... rrrrrings....
Four birds that called
Three French hens
Two ring-necked doves
And a game bird in a pear tree.

(This is much harder to sing than it ought to be; force of habit and all.)

#38 ::: Jason Allard ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 07:24 PM:

It's been a long time since I've encountered people that have even heard of the tradition of putting out shoes tonight. I used to do it way back when I was a kid and we were stationed in Germany. I miss this. I'll have to do something about that when I finally have some kids.

#39 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 07:46 PM:

I got my first cases of cognitive dissonance from Santa's odd habits.

One year, one of the items in our stockings were some sandwich cookies. Not Oreos; they were maple or vanilla flavored, with an unfamiliar and distinctive lacy decoration on the cookie.

Later that day, perhaps the next, Mom distributed a snack of milk and cookies. The same cookies. It really wigged me out.

Another year, I got one of the high-end presents I wished for: A Hot Wheels Supercharger. This was a little plastic garage with a pass-through for Hot Wheels cars. Mounted on the sides of the pass-through were foam wheels turned by an electric motor. Cars passing between them got enough of a boost to whiz clear around a good-sized track.

What freaked me out: The Supercharger didn't come in a box. The stickers on the sides were a bit askew, and it came wrapped in colored tissue paper.

I suspected it a thrift store item, but being a Believer blamed Santa, and wondered what I had done wrong.

#40 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 07:51 PM:

When I was a kid, my teacher took the class to the library on Dec. 6 and told us to leave our shoes outside the door.

The librarian read to us about St. Nicholas and the custom of putting out shoes.

When we went back outside, our shoes had candy in them. ;)

#42 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 08:15 PM:

Theophylact writes:

I did know that St. Clare was the patron saint of television, though. I found that out at Assisi, so I didn't need to consult this.

Wow! An IMDB for saints! This is going to be fun to explore. Thanks.

#43 ::: Hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 08:25 PM:

Jo Walton - In the absence of Xopher's sources, I would have to say that it might be more accurate to state that 'The Druids thought mistletoe could heal all things'. Or at least there is reason to believe that they used it to treat a wide variety of ailments:

“The mistletoe, however, is but rarely found upon the robur; and when found, is gathered with rites replete with religious awe. This is done more particularly on the fifth day of the moon, the day which is the beginning of their months and years, as also of their ages, which, with them, are but thirty years. This day they select because the moon, though not yet in the middle of her course, has already considerable power and influence; and they call her by a name which signifies, in their language, the all-healing.”

- Pliny the Elder, The Natural History (eds. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A., John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S.)

Mistletoe was one of only three (Celtic) medicinal plants named by Pliny the Elder, so I think it's quite plausible that they used it to treat tuberculosis along with many other common illnesses (even though modern sources say not to use it on patients with TB).

As for the comment about mistletoe being used to cure cancer… Mistletoe was used by the ancients to treat a wide variety of illnesses and disorders, including cancer. Whether or not it was an effective treatment, I couldn’t say, but I’d venture to guess that it was no worse than many other treatments of the time. In fact, modern cancer researchers are looking at its effectiveness in treating cancer, so I’m guessing there’s something about it that is potentially useful.

Anybody who reads a story that mentions use of mistletoe, foxglove, or a plethora of other plants which are poisonous, but were used in medical treatments, should really do some research on how they were used and how they’re being used now, before trying them out. Maybe there are people who are stupid enough to experiment on their own and get themselves killed. In fact, I’m sure there are, but it seems a bit unreasonable to me to get angry at an author for including information like that when it was an accepted treatment at the time.

#44 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 08:51 PM:

Carrie S: holly isn't as multimorphic as dogwood (a tree as high as my 2.5-story house in Boston, a ground shrub (like temperate-zone pachysandra) in Alaska), but there are clearly a number of varieties (like rose bushes and rose trees, maybe). I had a 1st-grade classmate named Holly, in whose memory a tree was planted after she died of leukemia; the last time I saw it was 35 years later, when it was at least 3 stories high -- upright rather than shrubby, but very thickly branched. OTOH, the bushy one on the north side of our house stayed ~6' tall for the 10 years we had it.

#45 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 08:59 PM:

linkmeister - do you mean "pollarding", or is that something else entirely?

As far as nominating patron saints goes, I think it's probably a combination of all three. The Vatican officially assigns them, and they usually try to find some connection - hence Clare and TV, and Veronica as patron saint of photographers - but I don't suppose everyone accepts the Vatican's authority. Presumably some of them are just tradition. My college at university was officially devoted to St Nicholas and the Virgin Mary, although you had to work hard to find that out.

And my mother has a special devotion to Gerard Majella, the patron saint of childbirth. But then, I am the youngest of six.

#46 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 09:06 PM:

I could have sworn that either a blood pressure or kidney remedy I bought from a Reputable Supplier of medicinal herbal products contained mistletoe, but the bottle of tincture's gone missing. Herb Pharm? The one with the orange label with green lettering.

Lacking the bottle, I turn to the bookshelf, and pull out David Hoffman's "The Herb User's Guide: The Basic Skills of Medical Herbalism" (American publisher Thorsons Publishing Group, British publisher Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd, 1987) and Grieve's herbal -- the Culpeper's is downstairs by the other computer, and in any case I only use it as a reference for inventing Hogwarts potions, not for practical medicinal purposes.

Hoffman: "nervine, hypotensive, cardiac depressant, possibly anti-tumour." Interesting description of HOW it works to lower blood pressure, and a suggestion of using it in combination with hawthorn berries.

Grieve says much the same thing but also describes its traditional use as a cure for epilepsy, and notes that while small doses will calm nerve responses and thus possibly alleviate symptoms, large amounts *cause* convulsions.

Nothing about TB...

#47 ::: jain ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 09:13 PM:

We always gave our daughter a small gift on Dec.6. When she started school the crossing guard on duty gave each child a candy cane on St Nicholas' Day, much to her delight. Old habits die hard in the Catholic neighborhoods. We also suckered ourselves into giving a gift on 12th Night as well.

#48 ::: melissa ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 11:00 PM:

I read this this morning, and this afternoon picked up my daugher from daycare, where they had all left out their boots for St. Nicolas - whoa. Candy and toys were in all the boots, so cute.

#49 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 06, 2005, 11:04 PM:

Ah, the why-souled druids. Our fathers of old, as the poit Rodyarded and rhubarbed: "Most of their remedies cured you dead." But your mistletoe may vary.

#50 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 12:04 AM:

Serge:

'Partridge in a peartree' makes sense to me. I realize that partridges are mostly ground-dwelling, but envisioning one occasionally making its way into a tree is not problematic. 'Partridge in a partridge' (perdrix), on the other hand, is confusing. Am I missing something here? Is this a bilingual pun?

But, of course, the best thing to receive from your true love on the first day of Christmas is a beer (to go along with the back bacon and French toast).

#51 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 01:54 AM:

Lenora,

It would be Maddy Prior, wouldn't it?

I think it's from an album my parents have, one that also has the Boar's Head Carol, but I'm not entirely certain. The lyrics and tune have survived in my head, but the metadata is gone.

#52 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 02:08 AM:

candle,
No, not pollarding. That's a new word to me. From Dictionary.com: A tree whose top branches have been cut back to the trunk so that it may produce a dense growth of new shoots.

This is a non-deliberately-planted (hence, "volunteer") palm tree which grew straight up through the branches of the coral tree, but was unnoticed until suddenly there were the fronds rising several feet above the coral's foliage.

#53 ::: LeeAnn ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 03:21 AM:

Mistletoe miscellany on Yahoo news . . . timely and disturbing. No medicinal references, but it was apparently considered to be the semen of the gods. Eew. BTW, mistletoe is the state flower of my native Oklahoma. Yep, flower.

#54 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 05:27 AM:

Yeah, debcha, I think the whole 'partridge in a peartree' is a pun. Why there is a pun, I don't know. But I think that's what it's all about (no hokeypokey joke, people...) But others might know otherwise. And I'm not sure about the habits of partridges.

The best thing to receive from your true love on the first day of Christmas is a beer (to go along with the back bacon and French toast)? No disagreement there.

#55 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 08:26 AM:

Abi: What have the X-Men got to do with this?

Chip: Dunno; given a difference between tree heights in Boston vs Alaska, I would suspect climate rather than genetic difference. But I could be wrong.

I know there are different types of holly plant, I've just never seen (in person) one of the really big tree-like ones.

#56 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 08:35 AM:

Carrie, I think that abi is referring to the scene where Nightcrawler goes on a rampage thru the White House.

#57 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 09:24 AM:

Hamadryad: Pliny says they picked it on the fifth day of the moon. He doesn't say what they used it for, and we do not know. First, Pliny believes in unicorns and didn't know any druids. Second, even Pliny doesn't say what the druids used it for.

We know a few tiny facts about the druids, and we have some archaeological evidence about the Celts generally. From these facts it is legitimate to infer a few other facts.

Because the druids are cool and romantic, people have just plain made up a lot of things about them. Because there's been a creation of a modern religion which claims the druids as part of its history, a lot of people have a lot invested in some of these inventions. This means there's a lot of generally unexamined belief about the druids that's not at all justified by the actual evidence. This makes it very difficult to say anything at all about them. Every time someone says or repeats "the druids did x" as they have innocently heard and repeat, though it isn't from the real evidence (in which I will doubtfully allow Pliny's hearsay) then it adds more disinformation to the general pool of knowledge about the druids.

I suspect they'd have found this hilarious, especially when it happens in print, but I am a historian and it drives me mad.

Rikibeth quotes modern herbal uses of mistletoe as a medicine for epilepsy. Maybe they used it for that, though you'd think that Caesar, as an epileptic himself, would have found that interesting enough to note. We at least know that epilepsy existed at the time -- which we don't about TB, which is a disease that may well have come along later. There's no evidence for the existence of TB in antiquity.

And my objection to modern writers saying that druids used mistletoe berries to cure cancer is that it's a) not true b) not a belief of the time, it's modern twaddle c) real people with cancer are often desperate enough to try anything, and offering them a false poisoned hope seems to me to be evil.

#58 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 09:35 AM:

Ah yes, mistletoe, our OK state parasite.... Now that many of the big oaks on campus have lost their leaves, you can see how much of it we actually have. Lots -- no need to buy the dried stuff in stores, especially with the high winds we've been having. I must have the wrong oak species at my house, though, because we don't have any.

We also have lots of holly trained as trees here on campus. Between the library and the administration building there are a couple of clusters that are about 15-20 feet tall, I'd estimate. Rather attractive, but not nearly as tall as the ones at Moria gate were supposed to be, I think. I never thought of holly as something that would like our 100-degree summer weather, but it's all over the place here.

#59 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 10:04 AM:

Re: TB in antiquity -- While Tuberculosis of the lungs leaves no mark upon skeletal remains, TB can also invade the bones and does leave a characteristic pattern.

How long this TB variant has existed I am not sure. I think I'll go a-Googling...

#60 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 10:22 AM:

Here's what I found on TB.

From http://www.goshen.edu/bio/Biol206/Biol206LabProject/tricia/Tbhx.html

Mycobacterium tuberculosis has infected humans for thousands of years. Fragments of the spinal column from Egyptian mummies from 2400 BCE have been found that show definite pathological signs of tubercular decay.

This is from the Emedicine website:

o Bone TB: Common sites involved are the large weightbearing bones or joints including the vertebrae (50%), hip (15%), and knee (15%). Destruction of the bones with deformity is a late sign of TB. Manifestations may include angulation of the spine (gibbus deformity) and/or Pott disease (severe kyphosis with destruction of the vertebral bodies). Cervical spine involvement may result in atlantoaxial subluxation, which may lead to paraplegia or quadriplegia.

#61 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 10:23 AM:

partridge in a perdrix... would that be kind of a Christmas version of turducken?

#62 ::: Hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 11:27 AM:

Jo Walton - Actually Pliny does name a couple of uses that the Druids had for it. He specifically states that it was given to animals that were sterile, and also that it was believed to be an antidote against all poisons.

I think if you reread my original post, my point was that we don't know for sure. True, Xopher hasn’t presented any convincing evidence that the Druids did definitely use mistletoe to treat TB. But you haven’t presented anything which would allow me to categorically state that they didn’t. I’m willing to consider that they might have used mistletoe for such a purpose, given that it was referred to as an ‘all healing’ plant, and was greatly venerated.

Rikibeth quotes modern herbal uses of mistletoe as a medicine for epilepsy. Maybe they used it for that, though you'd think that Caesar, as an epileptic himself, would have found that interesting enough to note. We at least know that epilepsy existed at the time -- which we don't about TB, which is a disease that may well have come along later. There's no evidence for the existence of TB in antiquity.

And my objection to modern writers saying that druids used mistletoe berries to cure cancer is that it's a) not true b) not a belief of the time, it's modern twaddle c) real people with cancer are often desperate enough to try anything, and offering them a false poisoned hope seems to me to be evil.

First off, there is evidence of the existence of TB in antiquity: "Mycobacterium tuberculosis has infected humans for thousands of years. Fragments of the spinal column from Egyptian mummies from 2400 BCE have been found that show definite pathological signs of tubercular decay." (http://www.goshen.edu/bio/Biol206/Biol206LabProject/tricia/Tbhx.html)

On to the rest... Yes, Rikibeth was referring to modern sources. I was not. Again, according to Pliny the Elder, mistletoe was used to treat tumours, epilepsy and ulcers, among other things. (He makes no mention of the success of these treatments, only that mistletoe was used). It’s not entirely modern twaddle, it’s antiquated twaddle.

Furthermore, as I stated, cancer researchers are studying the efficacy of mistletoe in treating cancer today. Maybe I’m an unrealistic idealist, but I believe that they’re unlikely to waste their time researching something that is clearly not going to work. This leads me to think that it might not be twaddle at all.

#63 ::: Hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 11:29 AM:

Oops! I didn't notice that Lori had already posted that link about tuberculosis. Sorry for double posting it.

#64 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 12:43 PM:

When he realized that I must have seen my unwrapped presents when I stood on a chair to dust the top of their closet doors, he took them back to the PX and any presents from anybody else either went back to them or were given away.

Wow, that's pretty harsh.

#65 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 01:38 PM:

Carrie, Serge,

You lost me on the turn there. My X-Men Fu is not high (indeed, this close to midwinter, my n-Fu is pretty low for all values of n.)

Any chance of a baby talk explanation? I'll do the Ritual Clueless Person Dance if required.

#66 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 01:45 PM:

Abi: no clueless dance required. You mentioned the recording artist Maddy Prior; Madelyne Prior is also the secret identity of the X-Man also known as Kitty Pryde. She has a second-long cameo in one of the movies, walking through a closed door, and is apparently featured more prominently in X3 (and have people seen pictures of the new X-Men? Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut? Kelsey Grammer as Beast).

#67 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 01:46 PM:

Oh, you never saw the X-men movies, abi? Are you familiar with the comic-book though?

#68 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 01:49 PM:

I have seen photos of Kelsey Grammer as the Beast (see some link I posted somewhere in this thread), and I saw the Angel. But not the Jugegrnaut. I hope they got rid of his stupid costume's helmet. That upside-down punch bowl has got to go.

#69 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 01:51 PM:

Oops. X-men link is in the open thread. Not here.

#70 ::: Will Entrekin ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 01:53 PM:

Serge: Check JoBlo.com. They had the story in the submenu on the left side of the page. Both shots I've seen Jones in have been sans helmet. My guess is there'll be one, but it will be both less obtrusive than the original (as in Magneto's case) and have a different explanation (for anyone unfamiliar, in the comics, Juggernaut's [Cain Marko's] power came from a gem in his helmet, and he is also Professor X's brother-in-law. I'm guessing neither will be the case in Ratner's movie [Magnet's movie helmet, if I remember correctly, is described as blocking telepathy. I think it was just to look cool in the comics])

#71 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 02:14 PM:

When he realized that I must have seen my unwrapped presents when I stood on a chair to dust the top of their closet doors, he took them back to the PX and any presents from anybody else either went back to them or were given away.

What a prick! And I suppose if you HADN'T dusted the tops of the doors, he'd have punished you for that as well.

Jo Walton, geez. I'm sorry. I just heard that and believed it (I got it from a Celtic anthropologist who was anything but a defender of the Druids, and who LAUGHS at NRDNA, for example). I didn't look it up myself, since I thought my source would know.

Now I'd like to find out if there WAS TB among the ancient Celts (my anthropologist friend debunked the belief that Celts are genetically sensitive to the disease, btw), and if so, if they believed the Druids had a treatment for it (if so, they probably believed it was a curse that came from them, too). From what you've said it might be difficult to find any evidence of that.

Alexei (yes, he's of Russian (and Tatar) extraction, despite his chosen field) also said that the Druids were the nastiest kind of theocracy, and that anyone who hasn't studied for thrice-seven years better not call himself a Druid...I believe 'jackass' was the term he suggested instead.

The modern fake Druids are IMHO strictly Isaac Bonewits' power trip. And there are two groups of them because someone else ALSO went on a power trip! (I'm speaking of the American species. Those folks who want to do rites at Stonehenge (which was! not! built by the Druids) are something else, possibly even some kind of authentic something or other. I doubt it, but I don't know much about them.)

Is that any better?

#72 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 02:15 PM:

Probably my favorite moment in X2 was Magneto pointing to his helmet. . .

And, from elsewhere, I assumed that it was "perdrix in a pear tree" rather than "partridge in a perdrix". I have no evidence for this.

#73 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 02:18 PM:

Thank you for the explanation. I reckoned it was either "Maddy Prior" or "metadata" that tripped the Obscure Reference Switch.

I have seen the films, but I'm afraid that the peripheral character details did not make a lasting impression on me. I confess that I have not even read the comic books. I seem to be missing the graphic novel/comic book gene in my genre DNA (apart from the Sandman.)

I apologise again for my rather leaden denseness. SAD and Edinburgh latitudes make for a very dim Abi in midwinter. It does have compensations - I am generally bright and energetic (not to say manic) in the summer.

#74 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 02:39 PM:

That didn't keep Pyro from finding Magneto's helmet really dorky.

#75 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 02:48 PM:

Apologies, abi, for throwing around references to something you're unfamiliar with. I thought the movies did a good job using peripheral characters to make them work on their own while at the same time allowing the fans to see a lot more. I got a kick out of Mystique breaking into Stryker's computer and, while she's going thru the mutant list, we can see an icon by itself named 'Franklin Richards'. It doesn't take away from enjoying the movie not to know that Franklin Richards is the son of the Fantastic Four's founders.

#76 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 02:52 PM:

Serge,

The day anyone needs to apologise for being too obscure on Making Light is the day half the people leave. I just wanted in on the joke, and I hadn't the wit to ask for an explanation in a clever way.

I feel...enlightened. But that could be the really bright light box I'm sitting next to.

#77 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 02:57 PM:

Must be the box, abi. Anyway, if I get too obscure, let me know. I'm not shy about asking for clarifications when I don't get it, whatever 'it' may be.

#78 ::: Hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 02:59 PM:

Xopher, do you think you can get more information from your anthropologist friend? I'd really like to read up on this some more. Don't discount everything he said, just because one person objects. She might not be aware of the sources he had access to. :-)

From the sounds of it, it might not be that hard to find evidence of TB among the celts, if they had it. TB can leave visible signs on the bones of the sufferer. It's just a matter of digging up the information.

#79 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 03:05 PM:

Xopher, TB has been with us since the time of the ancient Egyptians (mummies buried more than 2400 years ago show signs of vertebral TB). So I'd guess the Celts probably had it too...

#80 ::: JonathanMoeller ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 05:08 PM:

The *problem* with the Druids is that they never wrote anything down, instead expecting acolytes to learn everything via memorization (a lot like a network engineer documenting the core servers for the help desk staff, really). This might result in druids with really good memories, but when the Romans come and kill everyone off, you get data-flow problems.

So if I ever found a secret priesthood, esoteric society, or occult brotherhood, I'll be *certain* to include a well-documented, properly indexed, clearly printed MANUAL, lest two thousand years later people go around ingesting toxic substances in my name.

#81 ::: Hamadryad ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2005, 08:59 PM:

You know... I think I see the problem in the discussion about mistletoe. People seem to be confusing American mistletoe (Phoradendron villosum) with European mistletoe (Viscum album). Although they're both called mistletoe, they're not even the same species, as you can probably tell from the latin names.

American mistletoe is (potentially) very toxic and shouldn't be taken orally. European mistletoe (obviously the species used by the Romans, Celts, Greeks, etc.) is not nearly as toxic, and has been used medicinally for at least 2000 years. In that length of time, if every patient who took it got poisoned, you'd think somebody would have noticed.

Jonathan, in your manual make sure you tell your followers to get a clue and make sure they're eating the RIGHT frickin' plant.

#83 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 04:06 AM:

Okay, since nobody has made the correction yet, I will. "Maddy Pryor" is not the secret identity of the X-Man Kitty Pryde. The real name of Kitty Pryde (aka Shadowcat) is, well, "Kitty Pryde". "Katherine Anne Pryde" if you want to be formal.

Madelynne Pryor was...well, as X-characters are wont to do, she accumulated a rather complicated history. Let's just say that she was a redheaded airplane pilot who was married to Cyclops for a time. I'm pretty sure she's currently dead.

And yes, she was in fact named after the lead singer of Steeleye Span.

#84 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 08:41 AM:

Madelyne Prior is also the secret identity of the X-Man also known as Kitty Pryde. She has a second-long cameo in one of the movies, walking through a closed door, and is apparently featured more prominently in X3

Er, no. :)

Kitty Pryde (Katherine Anne Pryde), also known variously as Sprite, Ariel, and most enduringly Shadowcat, walks through a door in X1 and (played by a different, younger actress) falls through her bed in X2.

Madelyne Prior is (deep breath) the clone of Jean Grey, created my Mr. Sinister for purposes of his clandestine Summers-Family breeding experiment, after Jean Grey was killed saving the rest of the team when their space shuttle was crashing (I don't think Jean and Scott Summers were married yet when this happened.) Madelyne worked for Scott's familiy's bush pilot company in Alaska, and it didn't become obvious that she was Jean's clone till after she (Maddie) and Scott were married. Then Jean came back from the dead and there were Issues, and Maddie went crazy and almost destroyed the universe (or something like that). Maddie is indeed currently dead and, mirabile dictu, looks likely to stay that way.

#85 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 08:46 AM:

If I remember correctly, Cyclops, on the rebound from Jean Grey's latest death, comes across another redhead, Madelynne Pryor, and gets heavily involved with her until he finds out that she really is an evil clone cooked up by Mister Sinister. These days, there's another redhead hanging around Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, but she's the daughter of Cyclops and Jean Grey, but from an alternate future.

That Cyclops... There was a scene a couple of years ago where Cyclops and Wolverine are out having a drink instead of trying to kill each other. At that point, Cyclops is hooked up with Emma Frost, another telepath, and Wolverine, who still carries the torch for Jean Grey, asks Cyclops why he's the one who gets all those beautiful women throwing themselves at him.

#86 ::: Jim Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: December 08, 2005, 09:20 PM:

"When you see a statue of a saint with three children in a tub at his feet, that’s St. Nicholas."

Jim, your mention of the children in the tub at St. Nicholas' feet made me think immediately of a passage in Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol", when Ebeneezer Scrooge notices the two children at the feet of the Ghost of Christmas Present. This Ghost has a very Father Christmas-like feeling to him, and for the first time, I wonder if Dickens was using his readers' knowledge of the image of St. Nicholas' children to make a satirical point, when he wrote this:


From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!”

“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.

“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”

#87 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: December 09, 2005, 12:38 PM:

Cyclops met and married Maddy Pryor after the destruction of the Dark Phoenix, and then abandoned her and their son when Jean Grey was found alive in the same waters the shuttle had crashed into. The body of one of Maddy's fellow clones was found a short time later, leading everyone to believe she was dead, but it never seemed to affect Cyclops all that much. She was in Australia with the team when they temporarily moved their headquarters there, and while there made a supernatural bargain (with Belasco?) that turned her into the villainous Goblyn Queen.

Her son with Cyclops, via a typically torturous Liefeld plotline, became Cable and his clone Stryfe.

As for holiday visitors, I intend to leave treats out for Hogfather's boars. The reindeer can fend for themselves.

#88 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 05:57 AM:

So, now when I say "accumulated a complicated history" people can see that I wasn't kidding.

Maddy's bargain was not with Belasco -- Belasco went MIA at the end of the _Magik_ limited series, and to the best of my knowledge hasn't been seen since -- but with the demon N'astirh. She died of it and SFAIK has remained dead since.

#89 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 10, 2005, 08:14 AM:

When the X-men started getting involved with demons, David, I pretty much called it quits. I'd glance and could see there was a lot of stuff going on, with Cable and Sabertooth and Rachel showing up, and Wolverine finding out that his memories weren't real, and the Angel losing his wings, getting mechanical wings and turning blue in the face, getting his organic wings back but still blue in the face... It took the first movie, and noticing that Grant Morrison had revamped the comic-book itself for me to come back. Then one year ago, they started having the X-men wearing those stupid costumes again and I've dropped out again, except for Joss Wheadon's X-men comic-book.

I just went to that joblo.com site that Will Entrekin had mentionned and finally got to see what the movie's Juggernaut looks like. Very suitably mean and no stupid punch-bowl helmet. Maybe, like Will suggested, he'll be given something more functional, like Magneto's... Oh, and I see that Callisto, leader of the Morlocks is in the movie. Hopefully, the plot can deal with the crowd...

#90 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 04:44 PM:

"Wolverine, who still carries the torch for Jean Grey, asks Cyclops why he's the one who gets all those beautiful women throwing themselves at him."

Wolverine. . .

Possibly the only inspirational X-Men moment I ever got was when Jubilee said about Wolverine, "You ever notice when he refers to an 'old friend', they're always female, always beautiful, and always superpowered?"

I decided that was what I wanted out of life- for all my old friends to be female, beautiful, and superpowered.

I think I'm doing pretty well.

#91 ::: TH ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 04:53 PM:

"When you see a statue of a saint with three children in a tub at his feet, that’s St. Nicholas."

Funny that nobody mentioned that the guys in the tub are
a) only recently re-integrated after being
b) slaughtered, hacked to pieces and salted by an evil butcher and
c) are wandering students in at east one version and have been
d) brought back to life by St. Nicholas, which explains
e) St. Nicholas being the patron saint of students

I just love saintly legends. Modern Splatter has nothing on these tales.

#92 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 04:56 PM:

Who is the patron saint of evil butchers?

Do he and St. Nick have it in for each other?

#93 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2005, 06:15 PM:

And what superpowers do your old friends have, Sandy?

#94 ::: Annie ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2006, 12:55 AM:

I am looking up facts on the real Saint Nicholas. There is very little to find, especially quotes or saying, which I need for an upcoming wedding in the Greek Orthodox Church. Everything refers to Santa Clause and Saint Nick...not what I want. Can anyone help me locate a site that might have his origins, quotes or sayings from St. Nicholas? The Church has nothing that specific either, so I'm out of luck there. Thanks so much everyone!!!!!

#96 ::: helen horton ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2007, 02:31 PM:

take me to A VISIT FROM ST> NICHOLAS" How to get there on my computer I have a Dell

#98 ::: abi suspects a leaf from the trees of eternal September ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2007, 03:00 PM:

helen horton @96:
Are you looking for A Visit from St Nicholas, also known as 'Twas the Night Before Christmas? Click on the link in my last sentence to find it online.

(Serge, no spammy content in the email address or comment, so I'm assuming newby + Googlejuice)

#99 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2007, 03:06 PM:

Hi, Helen:

Just click on this link and it will take you to a copy of A Visit From St. Nicholas (AKA "The Night Before Christmas").

It should work regardless of what kind of computer you have.

#100 ::: melanie ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 09:01 PM:

The Real Saint Nicholas

by Ted Olsen, former assistant editor of Christian History

December 6 marks Saint Nicholas Day, and I thought I'd mark the beginning of the Christmas season by telling the story of Santa Claus's namesake. But before I do, I should remark that, historically speaking, there's not much we really know about Nicholas. Though he's one of the most popular saints in the Greek and Latin churches, his existence isn't attested by any historical document. All we can say is that he was probably the bishop of Myra (near modern Finike, Turkey) sometime in the 300s.

That said, there are of course many legends about Nicholas, and since these have influenced people throughout history, and they likely illustrate something about the historical man, they are fair game for a publication, like ours, devoted to Christian history.

Supposedly, Nicholas was born to a wealthy family in Patara, Lycia. His parents died, and he inherited a considerable sum of money, but he kept none of it. In the most famous story about his life, he threw bags of gold through the windows of three girls about to be forced into lives of prostitution. At least that's the most common version of the story; there are others, including an excessively grim one where the three girls are beheaded by an innkeeper and pickled in a tub of brine until Nicholas resurrects them.

After a couple of miracles (he's sometimes called Nicholas the Wonder-Worker) performed while he was still a boy, Nicholas was chosen by the people of Myra to be their new bishop. But it wasn't long before Diocletian and Maximian began their persecutions of Christians, and the new bishop was imprisoned.

When Constantine became emperor, Nicholas was released with countless others and returned to his preaching only to find a new threat: Arianism. According to one biographer (writing five centuries after Nicholas's death), "Thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison." Other biographers claim Nicholas attacked the heresy of Arius (who denied the full divinity of Christ) in a much more personal way—he traveled to the Council of Nicea and slapped Arius in the face! As the story goes (and this should be taken as fantasy because there are pretty good records of the council, and Nicholas isn't mentioned), the other bishops at Nicea were shocked at such rude behavior and relieved him as bishop. But then Jesus and Mary appeared next to him, and they quickly recanted.

That's the questionable legend of Nicholas. But not the end of the story. Even by the reign of Justinian (d. 565), Nicholas was famous, and the emperor dedicated a church in Constantinople to him. By the 900s, a Greek wrote, "The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. All Christians reverence his memory and call upon his protection." The West became even more interested when his "relics" were taken from Myra to Bari, Italy, on May 9, 1087. He's said to have been represented by medieval artists more frequently than any saint but Mary, and nearly 400 churches were dedicated in his honor in England alone during the late Middle Ages.

With such a popularity, his legends inevitably became intertwined with others. In Germanic countries, it sometimes became hard to tell where the legend of Nicholas began and that of Woden (or Odin) ended. Somewhere along the line, probably tied to the gold-giving story, people began giving presents in his name on his feast day. When the Reformation came along, his following disappeared in all the Protestant countries except Holland, where his legend continued as Sinterklass. Martin Luther, for example, replaced this bearer of gifts with the Christ Child, or, in German, Christkindl. Over the years, that became repronounced Kriss Kringle, and ironically is now considered another name for Santa Claus.

so, that is the story!! but,,,
some people say that he kills children!! shame on him!!!! is it real??? the person was my dad's girlfriend told me that, she never celebrate christmas in here whole life!!! dang!!! well tell me if this is real or not!!

#101 ::: Terry (in Germany)(sees an oddity) ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2007, 09:43 PM:

I don't know what to make of the post above.

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