Sunday, December 8, 2013

Meet the New Gods. Same as the Old Gods.

The good Saint Nicholas marking his street in Bruges.

          The feast day of St. Nicholas was a couple of days ago—December 6, and I meant to write this post then, but we've been kind of busy trying to keep the house from freezing, because the Saga of the Inadequate Heating System has turned into a comedy of errors* and repair delays. So, space heaters, lots of baking to keep the kitchen warm, and resetting the circuit breakers when the space heaters trip them because the entire front of the house, plus the refrigerator, are on two circuits** instead of spread out onto multiple circuits like any normal house.

Did I mention that the temperatures have been in the single digits? And that the breaker box is outside? And that I really really hate our seller?

Anyway, Saint Nicholas. Not the jolly St. Nick of popular media, but the pious bishop of Myra (in southwestern Turkey). Patron saint of Russia, children, pawnbrokers, unmarried girls, sailors, perfumiers, repentant thieves, barrel-makers, toy-makers, and, depending on the source you consult, just about everything else. Not exactly a jolly old elf, but definitely an inclusive guy. Maybe even welcoming, in that austere, bishopal way.

The thing I like best about Saint Nicholas, aside from the fact that he's the patron saint of pawn-brokers, is that once you get into the folklore about him, you run across this bizarre but not unexpected*** mash-up of Christian and pagan that one of my saintly sources, The Wordsworth Dictionary of Saints, by Alison Jones, claims for him. Dutch settlers in the new world, the Dictionary claims, by what flight of fancy it is unclear, linked him with the Norse god Thor. Thor, who drove a fancy-schmancy chariot pulled by goats, and meted out rewards and punishments. It is not a far leap, when you're crouching at the edge of an uncharted wilderness far away from your home and family in the bleak midwinter and the children are clamoring for a story to go to sleep to, to smosh all that together and get a jolly old elf, his miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer, presents for good girls and boys, and lumps of coal for bad children and every blankety-blank member of the current Congress.

I like imagining that Saint Nicholas has access to Thor's hammer if he needs it. You know, to add a little punch to the whole lumps of coal thing.

And I plan on being a very, very good girl this year. Just in case.

*Only completely without the comedy part.
**What kind of electrician would wire a house like that? And why is he not being roasted in hell even as we speak?
***If you remember what a natural-born appropriator of other cultures' deities the Catholic church was and is.

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