By William Planes, Archon Notorious, Special to the Hellenic News of America
We are at that time of year when the sounds around us announce that Christmas has arrived. To many, this has specific meanings. To others, the meaning of Christmas can be mixed and sometimes confusing.
As we approach the end of November, television, radio, and in recent years, social media, have begun to cry out that Christmas is approaching. However, much of what we hear, see, and experience has nothing to do with Christmas.
We start with the traditional Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City that features, at the end of the Parade, the arrival of St. Nicholas, which announces the beginning of the Christmas holiday season. This is followed by a barrage of advertising for “Black Friday,” “Small Business Saturday,” and “Cyber Monday,” all of which announce to the many the arrival of the Christmas season, which is expressed here in the form of commerce and sales; all driving the participants to believe that they must participate, many times spending money that they will have to work and earn over the following year (buy now and pay over the next twelve months). Often the buying is of things we want and not of things we need.
After this commercialized flurry of activity, there are numerous dinners and cocktail parties, all in the name of Christmas. Many of these events feature symbolic references to Christmas that include Christmas Trees, St. Nicholas, Egg Nogg, presents, and an abundance of food; all culminating with the arrival of St. Nicholas transported with his abundance of toys and presents by his team of flying reindeer lead by one that has a red nose. A large part of this adaptation comes from various ideas that have been incorporated into this secular celebration of Christmas. This includes St. Nicholas.
St. Nicholas and his placement in Christmas evolved from the original St. Nicholas of Myra. Born on March 15, 270, he fell asleep in Christ on December 6, 373. He was an early Orthodox Bishop of Greek descent, born in the maritime city of Myra, which today is the city of Demre, Turkey. He is credited with many miracles attributed to his intercession, and thus, he is known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students. He, like many of the early Christian Saints, was pious. He was legendary for his secret gift-giving, this trait being preserved in today’s secular Santa Clause (St. Nickolas).
In one of the earliest attested and most famous incidents from the life of St. Nicholas, he is said to have rescued three girls from being forced into prostitution by dropping a sack of gold coins through the window of their house each night for three nights so their father could pay a dowry for each of them. Other early stories tell of him calming a storm at sea, saving three innocent soldiers from wrongful execution, and chopping down a tree possessed by a demon.
For those of us that are Christians, be it from the Sea of Constantinople, Rome, Antioch, Jerusalem, or Alexandria, Christmas has a much deeper meaning than what is celebrated in the secular form of Christmas. For us, the meaning of Christmas and the Celebration of Christmas is best defined by a few words from the Nicene Creed (Σύμβολον τῆς Νικαίας), which was adopted at the First Council of Nicene in 325 and amended in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople. Here we confess our beliefs stating that our Lord Jesus Christ “…who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost and the virgin Mary, and was made man…”. We begin our feast of the Nativity on November 15 and, on December 25 celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Looking back on my life, I see how my parents, Panayiotis and Katherine Platanides (Planes), focused on our celebration of Christmas. We always went to church on Christmas day before any presents from under the tree were exchanged and opened. The focus of the family was on the birth of Christ. There was no Santa Claus, but we did celebrate the Feast Day of St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, whose feast day is December 6th, and the Feast Day of St. Basil the Great, who was from Caesarea in Asia Minor (today Kayseri Turkey), who’s feast day follows on January 1st; and This is all followed by the Feast Day of Epiphany on, January 6th.
As Orthodox Christians, we concentrate on fasting, prayer, confession, and communion from November 15 to December 24. On December 25, we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. As we fast and prepare ourselves for Christmas, we need to emphasize and renew our efforts, being sure that we are celebrating correctly, the celebration of the Nativity and not Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and all the other distractions created to promote sales in the secular idea of Christmas. Sure, we can enjoy some of the secular activities, like having a Christmas Tree and exchanging gifts, but the gifts should be for those in need and for children, those that Christ directed us to describe as “…do unto the least of mine as you would do unto though it was me…” Our enjoyment should not be at the cost of neglecting our need to fast, pray, confess, and take communion in preparation of our celebration of the birth of Christ.
My book, Platanides-Through the Eye of the Storm, views the life of our family in the light of our Faith and our Church while living our Faith in our daily life. The book accounts for major events of history from the early 1900s to today and how our family faced and survived those events that were negative in nature. Please write me to tell me how you enjoyed reading my book. You can reach me through my website, (https://williamplanes.com)