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Christmas Stories and Legends

all (except those so noted) are from John Paul

Here is a great e-mail from a friend when I told her that Christmas
depressed me with my kids grown and living far away. Enjoy! JohnPaul

Years ago when I was in a group called Toastmasters we also had a debate.
Another member was sure that he could convince the rest of the group not
only that there was no Santa Claus, but that parents were foolish to tell their
kids that there was. He issued a challenge and I accepted that challenge.
We had our debate and I won. I don't have a copy of his speech, but I still
have the copy of mine. Keep in mind as you are reading it that I wrote this
5 or 6 years ago, so I refer to events that happened that year. It's long so if
you don't have time to read it I understand, but here it is for anyone who
is interested:

Is There Really a Santa Claus?

In 1897 a young girl named Virginia O'Hanlon asked her father the question
most parents dread . . .

"Tell me the TRUTH, is there really a Santa Claus?"

I can sympathize with Virginia's father, as I have answered this question
three times, with my own children. Virginia's father did not want to be the
one to break her heart, so he convinced her to write to the New York Sun,
telling her that if its printed in the Sun it must be true. Editor Francis
Church took the challenge and answered her question with an eloquent and
heart warming reply that is as true today as it was 90 years ago. It reads
in part:

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love, and
generosity, and devotion exist. Alas, how dreary would be the world if
there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no
Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance
to make tolerable this existence. The eternal light with which childhood
fills the world would be extinguished."

My goal today is to convince you that there IS a Santa Claus that exists in
today's world. I am going to tell you about three kinds of Santa Claus's.
The first is the original Santa Claus - the one who lived sixteen hundred
years ago. The second is the American Santa Claus, the fictional Santa, who
delights children from coast to coast. The last one is what I will call the
real Santa.

Santa Claus comes to us from the legends of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas
was a bishop who lived in Asia Minor in the fourth century. He was the son
of a wealthy merchant. Bishop Nicholas traveled throughout the country and
wherever he went he was always welcomed. He visited the sick and gave them
comfort. He visited those in prison and gave them hope. He loved children,
and often brought them small wooden toys that he carved while he traveled.
He was already very popular and much loved when his parents died and he
inherited his father's fortune. Sometime later the poor people in the area
began to find boxes of food, cloth for clothing, and sometimes small bags of
gold. The boxes would be left mysteriously in the middle of the night, and
were found the next morning just inside the door.

In one story, finding the door locked, he climbed onto the roof and threw
bags of gold down the chimney. One of the bags fell into a stocking that
had been hung to dry, and it is in this story that Saint Nicholas is caught.
Hearing the noise the bishop made as he climbed onto the roof, the father of
the house awakened. Bishop Nicholas pleaded with the father to keep his
secret.

The father, however, did not grant his request, and soon the good deeds of
Bishop Nicholas spread throughout the land. Saint Nicholas died on December
6th in the year 342.

It was the Dutch who began the tradition of hanging stockings and filling
them with goodies. This was done on December the 6th to honor Saint
Nicholas. The Dutch brought this tradition with them when they migrated to
America in the late 1700's. Originally, Saint Nicholas or Sinta Klas, as
the Dutch called him, rode a white stallion and wore his gold and white
bishop robes, lined with fur. He brought mostly fruit and candy, and an
occasional small toy. During the next century "Sinta Klas" became Santa
Claus and it was Clement Moore's Poem, written for his children in 1875,
that gave him the red suit, the boots, and made him a "right jolly old elf."
For several decades Santa Claus was portrayed as being short and fat with
elf like ears.

We have Coke Cola to thank for giving us the full size Santa we know today.
In an advertisement in 1922 a full size Santa was portrayed enjoying a
refreshing glass of coke as he rested from is awesome chore of delivering
toys to all the good boys and girls.


I've told you about the original Santa, and about the fictional Santa, and
now I want to tell you about the REAL Santa. He lives in the hearts of
volunteers who work for Suicide Prevention Centers, Teenage Runaway
Programs, Centers for battered women, and Rape Crisis Centers. He lives in
the hearts of foster parents who provide love, and care to children who have
been physically or mentally abused. The best thing about these Santa
Claus's is that they work 365 days a year.

Every year at Christmas time, I hear people say: "I wish the spirit of
Christmas, the giving and love would last all year." Fellow, Toastmasters,
I maintain that it DOES! We hear more about crime and injustice, for the
news media loves to write about "man's inhumanity to man," but there is an
abundance of good that occurs each and every day!

Last year, a devastating earthquake ripped through Armenia in Russia, taking
the lives of over 60,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands more
homeless. Russia is a country that has been in conflict with most of the
free world for almost 50 years. Around the world people put aside politics
and fear. The Russians were viewed, not as the enemy, but as people in need
of help. Millions of people around the world donated food, clothing and
money.

Would people have helped the victims of this earthquake any less had it not
happened at Christmas time? I think not - the spirit of giving, the spirit
of helping your neighbor, which is what Santa Claus represents, exists year
round. It wasn't Christmas time when they had the Hands Across America
program that fed thousands of people. It wasn't Christmas time when
Hurricane Gilbert hit, and thousands of people responded by giving food,
water, clothes and money to the victims of this terrible disaster. And, it
wasn't Christmas time when a small girl named Jessica fell down a well
shaft, and captured the hearts of not just a nation, but the world. Over
450 volunteers worked, some around the clock, for over two days. Some of
them risking their own lives. Millions of prayers from around the world
were prayed for the safe recovery of one small blonde headed girl. And,
when she was lifted out of the darkness of that well, tears of joy were
shed. It wasn't Christmas, but the spirit of Christmas was there.

If I could answer Virginia, I would say to her: Yes, Virginia there is a
Santa Claus. He is far more wonderful than the Santa you have known. For
he gives not toys, but food to the hungry, comfort to the ill, he gives hope
to thousands of people, but most of all he gives love - the kind of love
Christ asked us to give when he told us to love our neighbor. We should be
thankful for all the Santa Claus's of this world, for without them our
existence would indeed be dreary and intolerable.

~~~~~~

Collector of Worth While Thoughts in Poetry and Prose.
On a Mountain Top In Far Northern California.
Return of your Favorite Poems and Thoughts are Deeply Appreciated
poetry@snowcrest.net



The Legend of St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas was the youngest and one of the kindest bishops
in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. During the
Middle Ages, he gradually became the patron saint of
schoolboys. European schoolboys celebrated his feast day on
December 6 by electing a boy-bishop. Dressed in magnificent
robes, the boy-bishop led a parade which wound the narrow
streets and sometimes entered the churches. There was much
feasting, but on the whole, the occasion was solemn.

Later this custom died out, although Nicholas still remained
the favorite saint of children. In Belgium and the
Netherlands, both young and old celebrate his feast day. A
person representing the saint and wearing the robes of a
bishop rides through the streets on a white donkey, leaving
gifts in wooden shoes for good children and switches in the
shoes of bad children.

In other countries, St. Nicholas has taken other forms.
Whether he is known as Kris Kringle, Father Christmas, or
Santa Claus, he stands for the same thing, the kindly
spirit.



The Legend of the Holly

On the first Christmas night, when the shepherds went to the
manger, a little lamb following them was cought by the holly
thorns. The red berries are the blood drops that froze on
the branches that long ago night.



The Legend of the First Christmas Stocking

Long ago, in a far country, there lived a little boy whose
family was so poor they didn't have a Christmas tree. The
boy was worried that Santa Claus wouldn't visit his house,
because, in those days, Santa always left his gifts under
the tree.

Before he went to bed, the little boy washed his stockings
as he always did, for he had only one pair to wear. he hung
them to dry by the fire and crawled into bed. Soon he was
asleep.

When Santa arrived, he was very surprised to find no tree in
the house. Where could he leave the gifts? He knew the
little boy had been good all year, so he looked around. His
merry eyes lit upon the boy's dry stockings.

"Those will do nicely," he chuckled to himself. And he
stuffed them with toys and candy and oranges.

When the little boy dressed on Christmas morning, he found
his stockings full of surprises. He was so delighted, he
ran from his house to tell his friends what had happened.
Soon, children all over the countryside had heard the story.
And the very next Christmas, many stockings were hung by
the fireside in hopes that Santa would fill them.



The Legend of the Tinsel

Many years ago, a good woman with a large family of children
prepared the Christmas tree, trimming it profusely. During
the night, spiders visited the tree and crawled from branch
to branch, leaving their beautiful webs behind them. To
reward the woman for her goodness, the Christ Child blessed
the tree, and the spider webs were transformed into shining
silver.



The Legend of the Candle and the Small Stranger

One Christmas Eve, in medieval times, a lonely dressmaker
sat sewing by the light of a candle in her window. Suddenly
there was a knock at the door. She opened it to find a
small boy standing quietly in the dark. "I am lost and very
cold," he said. "I saw the candle in your window and
thought perhaps you would let me in to rest."

The poor dressmaker worried. If she took him in she might
not have time to finish her work. But her kind heart won
out. She made a bed for the boy by the hearth, and while he
rested he brought him broth. After the boy had eaten, he
thanked the woman and said he must be on his way.

The dressmaker bade the little stranger farewell and
returned to her work. Then she saw the miracle. All her
dresses were beautifully finished!!! The dressmaker ran
outside to catch the child. To the woman's surprise, he
left no footprints in the snow. Then she knew. Her visitor
had been the Christ Child.

Thus, through centuries, the custom of burning candles on
Christmas Eve to welcome all strangers.



The Legend of the Robin

A small brown bird was perched on a beam in a stable in
Bethlehem watching the people from many lands who had come
with gifts for the newborn Child. The little bird could see
the great adoration of the people as they knelt before the
Babe, and was able to sense that something wonderful had
happened.

After a time, the visitors departed and the Holy Family
settled down to rest; and the little bird prepared to sleep,
too. But just as he was dozing off, he noticed that the
fire, built to keep the Child warm, was dying out. Quickly
he flew down and began fanning the coals with his wings.
The fire became brighter until the feathers on the little
bird's breast radiated the glow and showed a beautiful red.

Although he grew very tired, the small bird stayed by the
fire all night, fanning it to keep the blaze bright and the
Christ Child warm.

Since that night the robin's breast has remained a glowing
red, a mark of the unselfish love and devotion shown by that
bird in Bethlehem.



The Legend of the Poinsettia

In a certain village in Mexico, many years ago, it was
customary on Christmas Eve to take gifts to the church and
place them before the creche. One evening there was a small
boy standing outside the church door. How he wished he
could enter the church and present the gift to Jesus....but
he was poor. He had nothing to give.

"I can at least pray," he thought to himself. He knelt
silently outside the church window and listened to the
voices raised in song. When he rose to his feet again, he
was amazed at what he saw in the spot where he had knelt.
It was a beautiful plant with scarlet leaves and a yellow
flower in the center. He had never seen anything like it.
Realizing it was a miracle, he carefully plucked it and took
it into the church. As he placed the beautiful flower
before the manger, he whispered, "This is my gift to the
Christ Child. My own precious gift."



The Legend of the First Christmas Bell

The star shone brightly over Bethlehem, guiding the
shepherds from the fields and the wise men from far-off
lands to the stable of the newborn King. But, in the city,
a small boy - blind and alone- wandered aimlessly through
the streets hoping someone would lead him to the Christ
Child. Suddenly, through the still-night air, he heard the
faint tinkle of a distant bell. He turned and began walking
in the direction of the sound. Gradually, its music became
louder and clearer and he heard excited voices. As he
approached the stable, a shepherd took his hand and led him
to the manger. The shepherd told him that the bell he heard
hung around the neck of a cow watching faithfully over the
sleeping Child. The little boy knelt silently in prayer and
thanked God for the Baby Jesus. And he didn't forget a
special prayer for the animal that had led him out of the
darkness. Since that first Christmas, bells have rung out
the joy of the Birth, and called people to worship and
prayer.



from Sharon - sharon.wilder@pnl.gov

A Christmas Story

It's just a small, white envelope stuck among the branches of our
Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has
peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.
It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas---oh, not the
true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of
it-overspending... the frantic running around at the last minute to
get a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma---the
gifts given in desperation because you couldn't think of anything
else. Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual
shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special
just for Mike.

The inspiration came in an unusual way. Our son Kevin, who was 12 that
year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and
shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team
sponsored by an inner-city church, mostly black. These youngsters,
dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only
thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in
their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.
As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was
wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect
a wrestler's ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not
afford.

Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as
each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his
tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn't
acknowledge defeat.

Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, "I wish just one of them
could have won," he said. "They have a lot of potential, but losing
like this could take the heart right out of them."

Mike loved kids - all kids - and he knew them, having coached little league
football, baseball and lacrosse. That's when the idea for his present
came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and

bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them
anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the
envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and
that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing
about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas,
I followed the tradition---one year sending a group of mentally
handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a
pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week
before Christmas, and on and on.

The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the
last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring
their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad
lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but
the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn't end there. You
see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas
rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the
tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree,
and in the morning, it was joined by three more.

Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an
envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and
someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing
around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers
take down the envelope. Mike's spirit, like the Christmas spirit,
will always be with us. May we all remember Christ,
who is the reason for the season, true Christmas spirit this year and always.



"Noel, Noel"
Why the Evergreen
Never Lose Their Leaves

By Florence Holbrook

WINTER was coming, and the birds had flown far to the south, where the air
was warm and they could find berries to eat. One little bird had broken its
wing and could not fly with the others. It was alone in the cold world of
frost and snow. The forest looked warm, and it made its way to the trees as
well as it could, to ask for help.

First it came to a birch tree. "Beautiful birch tree," it said, "my wing is
broken, and my friends have flown away. May I live among your branches till
they come back to me?"

"No, indeed," answered the birch tree, drawing her fair green leaves away.
"We of the great forest have our own birds to help. I can do nothing for
you."

"The birch is not very strong," said the little bird to itself, "and it
might be that she could not hold me easily. I will ask the oak." So the bird
said: "Great oak tree, you are so strong, will you not let me live on your
boughs till my friends come back in the springtime?"

"In the springtime!" cried the oak. "That is a long way off. How do I know
what you might do in all that time? Birds are always looking for something
to eat, and you might even eat up some of my acorns."

"It may be that the willow will be kind to me," thought the bird, and it
said: "Gentle willow, my wing is broken, and I could not fly to the south
with the other birds. May I live on your branches till the springtime?"

The willow did not look gentle then, for she drew herself up proudly and
said: "Indeed, I do not know you, and we willows never talk to people whom
we do not know. Very likely there are trees somewhere that will take in
strange birds. Leave me at once."

The poor little bird did not know what to do. Its wing was not yet strong,
but it began to fly away as well as it could. Before it had gone far a voice
was heard. "Little bird," it said, "where are you going?"

"Indeed, I do not know," answered the bird sadly. "I am very cold."

"Come right here, then," said the friendly spruce tree, for it was her voice that had called.

"You shall live on my warmest branch all winter if you choose."
"Will you really let me?" asked the little bird eagerly.

"Indeed, I will," answered the kind-hearted spruce tree. "If your friends
have flown away, it is time for the trees to help you. Here is the branch
where my leaves are thickest and softest."

"My branches are not very thick," said the friendly pine tree, "but I am big>and strong, and I can keep the North Wind from you and the spruce."

"I can help, too," said a little juniper tree. "I can give you berries all
winter long, and every bird knows that juniper berries are good."

So the spruce gave the lonely little bird a home; the pine kept the cold
North Wind away from it; and the juniper gave it berries to eat. The other
trees looked on and talked together wisely.

"I would not have strange birds on my boughs," said the birch.

"I shall not give my acorns away for any one," said the oak.

"I never have anything to do with strangers," said the willow, and the three
trees drew their leaves closely about them.

In the morning all those shining, green leaves lay on the ground, for a cold
North Wind had come in the night, and every leaf that it touched fell from
the tree.

"May I touch every leaf in the forest?" asked the wind in its frolic.

"No," said the Frost King. "The trees that have been kind to the little bird
with the broken wing may keep their leaves."

This is why the leaves of the spruce, the pine, and the juniper are always
green.




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