We Forgive You, Saint Nick

Nicholas of Myra punching Bishop Arius at the Council of Nicaea

Nicholas of Myra punching Bishop Arius at the Council of Nicaea

The birth of Jesus Christ may be the “reason for the season,” but for millions of children the man of the moment is Santa Claus.

While it is widely known that the Santa Claus of Christmas is derived from St. Nicholas, few know much about the original Saint Nick beyond the fact that he did not live at the North Pole, own flying reindeer, or employ a workshop full of elves.

Nicholas was a political ally of Athanasius of Alexandria during the Church intrigues of the 4th Century that led to Trinitarianism.  And, like Athanasius, he is rumored to have come into power at an absurdly young age through dubious means.

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Joyous Epiphany!

In the ancient church, the 6th of January was observed in celebration of not only the birth of Jesus and the adoration of the Magi and shepherds, but also other events such as his baptism by John and the wedding at Cana.

Taking a narrative view of ritual, AUR collects all of the birth-related events together in the Advent/Christmas season, reserving the stories of Jesus’ adulthood for the more solemn Lenten season.*

For this reason, Reform Unitarian Epiphany — closing out the Christmas season — commemorates the Adoration of the Magi and Shepherds, celebrating the universality of the Christian message, from high priests to herders, and from Jesus’ fellow religionists to representatives of a completely different faith tradition.

The local Jewish shepherds create a spiritually and morally significant contrast to the foreign Magi, high priests of Zoroastrianism: both the breadth of cultural idiom and the heights of socioeconomic class are bridged in their Adoration.  As the shepherds were guided by an angel who spoke to them, while the Magi were guided by a star they studied, these two visitations also represent personal and impersonal idiomatic approaches to truth.

May you have a Joyous Epiphany!


* The Temple-related events of Jesus’ childhood, including his presentation and later disputation, are collectively celebrated on Candlemas, the first Thursday in February.


The Importance of Christmas

Today is St. Lucia’s Day, the first of the 12 Days of Light honoring the Star of Bethlehem.  Time to put up the lit decorations!  But, also a good time to reflect on the importance of Christmas.

A celebration of the Nativity was never a foregone conclusion in Christianity. Tertullian’s list of major holidays among North African Christians in the 2nd Century makes no mention of Jesus’s birthday. Origen specifically denounced the idea of celebrating the birth of Jesus in the 3rd Century as something more fitting to the followers of a “pharaonic king.”

Despite this evidence that the earliest Christians did not observe Christmas, ironically some have used the December 25th celebration of the Nativity as “proof” that Jesus was a fictional character, invented as the last in a long series of sun gods considered by ancient mystics to be born/reborn on the Winter Solstice.

While this absurd and counter-factual argument holds no water historically, the evidence certainly does demonstrate that aspects of this pre-existing Middle Eastern holiday were added to Christian worship just as northern European traditions associated with Yuletide—including the tree—were also later adapted to Christianity.

Indeed, Christmas continues to accrete moving imagery and morally-instructive traditions (like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) even today.

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