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更新时间:2006/10/20
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Celebrating Christmas: A Visit With Nicholas
圣诞老人,报上名来

Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, the Nativity of the babe in the manger whom Christians believe was the Son of God. Indeed, the very word Christmas means “Christ festival”.

Yet there can be little doubt that for many it is Santa Claus — not Jesus — who is the human face of Christmas. In fact, it is fair to say that in much of the world, Santa is better known than the Christ who gave his name to the holiday.

But how did the fat man in the Coca-Cola red-and-white suit become the symbol of Christmas? The truth is that like the Christmas story itself, the story of Saint Nicholas is a composite of history, myth, and legend.

According to tradition, he was born in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) in about A.D. 270. When young, he traveled to Palestine and Egypt. Not long afterward, he became a bishop. During the Roman emperor Diocletian’s bloody persecution of Christians in 303, Nicholas was imprisoned. However, when Constantine the Great became emperor in 306, he legalized Christianity and made it the official religion of the Roman Empire. Nicholas was freed.

The scribes tell us that Nicholas’s prayers and leadership during the great tribulation led many to become Christians. Nicholas continued to serve as bishop for many years. On December 6, 343, Nicholas the man died, and Saint Nicholas the legend was born.

During his lifetime, Nicholas’s reputation for generosity and kindness gave rise to stories of miracles he performed for the poor, the weak--and children. After his death, devotion to Nicholas extended to all parts of Europe. His feast day was celebrated on December 6, but his reputation as a gift-giver later became attached to the celebration of Christmas on December 25.

After the Reformation in the 16th century, Nicholas’s cult disappeared in most Protestant countries of Europe. But his legend was united with old Nordic folktales of a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good children with presents. In England, he became known as Father Christmas. But in Holland, Saint Nicholas’ name and reputation persisted as “sinterklaas.”.

In the 17th century, Dutch colonists took this tradition with them to America. Later, Sinterklaas was adopted by the English-speaking majority as “Santa Claus.” The resulting image of a “jolly old elf” driving a sleigh with “eight tiny reindeer” crystallized in the 19th century. That was when Clement Moore wrote the now-famous poem “A Visit From Saint Nick.” And the red-and-white suit? That was created by a Coca-Cola adman in the 1930s.

Although greatly commercialized, the modern Santa Claus still embodies8 Saint Nicholas’ generosity and love for children. And for some, he still points to the Nativity of the babe in the manger, and reminds us of the reason we celebrate Christmas.


圣诞节是庆祝基督——这名被基督徒视为上帝之子的婴儿在马槽里的诞生。的确,“圣诞节”这个词意思就是“基督的庆典”。然而,可能有许多人会有点疑惑,圣诞节的代表人物竟是圣诞老人,而不是耶稣。事实上,这样说也不为过:在世界上许多地方,圣诞老人要比赋予该节日名称的基督还更出名。

但是,那个穿着一套可口可乐红白颜色衣服的胖子是怎么成为圣诞节的象征的呢?事实上,跟圣诞节本身的故事一样,圣人尼古拉的故事,也是集历史、神话和传说于一身。
按照传统的说法,公元270年,尼古拉生于小亚细亚(现在的土耳其)。年轻时,他曾经到巴勒斯坦和埃及旅行。不久以后,他成为了一名主教。

公元303年,罗马皇帝戴克里先血腥迫害基督徒期间,尼古拉被捕入狱。然而,公元306年君士坦丁大帝登基称帝,他使基督教合法化,并使之成为罗马帝国的国教。尼古拉也获释放。
据史书记载,尼古拉在受难期间的祈祷和领导让很多人皈依成为基督教徒。(出狱后)尼古拉继续担任主教多年。公元343年12月6日,真人尼古拉去世,然而圣人尼可拉的传说诞生了。

尼古拉在世时慷慨仁慈的名声衍生出他为穷人、弱者和孩子创造奇迹的许多故事。尼古拉死后,人们对他的挚爱延伸到欧洲各地。节日仪式定在12月6日举行,但是他身为“赠礼者”的声望,后来却与12月25日圣诞节的庆典扯上了关系。

16世纪宗教改革运动以后,对尼古拉的膜拜便在多数欧洲新教国家销声匿迹了。但是有关他的传说却跟一个北欧民间故事结合了起来,故事中有位魔术师,他爱惩罚顽皮的孩子,并送礼物奖励好孩子。在英格兰,尼古拉成为家喻户晓的圣诞节之父。而在荷兰,圣人尼古拉的名声依旧以“Sinterklaas”的名字流传。17世纪,荷兰的殖民者将这个传统带到美洲。后来,“Sinterklaas”为多数说英语的人民所采用,并改成了“Santa Claus”。他最后的形象──“快乐的老矮人”驾着“八只小驯鹿”拉的雪橇──是在19世纪开始变得明确具体起来的。摩尔(Clement Moore)就在那时写了《圣人尼克的来访》这首闻名至今的诗。还有那件红白套装呢?那是在20世纪30年代,可口可乐公司的广告商创造出来的。

尽管现代的圣诞老人已经被高度商业化,他仍旧表现了圣人尼古拉的宽大胸怀和对孩子们的爱。对某些人来说,他仍然象征着马槽里圣婴的诞生,并让我们想起庆祝圣诞节的缘由。

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