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  • The ancient polytheistic religions of Egypt, Persia, Babylonia and eventually Rome increasingly consolidated their pantheons of deities under a single primary god, usually a Sun-god. Humans could choose between good light or evil darkness and on judgment day be sent to Heaven or Hell based on their choices. Mithras was identified as the redeemer prophesied by Zoroaster: As an adult, Mithras healed the sick, made the lame walk, gave sight to the blind and raised the dead.

    Before returning to heaven at the Spring Equinox Mithras had a last supper with 12 disciples representing the 12 signs of the Zodiac. This militaristic black-and-white morality including a final judgment affecting an afterlife of heaven or hell probably accounted for the popularity of Mithraism among Roman soldiers.

    Mithraism was like an ancient fraternity: Commodus became the first Roman emperor to be initiated into Mithraism.

    Ancient African terracotta portraits 1000 B.C. to 500 B.C.

    The attempts by Diocletian to impose the state religion on everyone led to the last and most terrible of all persecutions. But many people saw the Roman State as a greater enemy than the Christians, who were respected for their willingness to die for their beliefs. Despite the intense persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire, Christianity continued to win many converts from paganism. Many of the former pagans were unwilling to relinquish their traditional winter solstice celebrations.

    Constantine sought to unify Sun-worship and Christianity into a single monotheistic state religion. Although Constantine was baptized on his deathbed, this was not an indication of his insincerity — it was a common practice of early Christians to delay baptism so as to die without sin.

    Although the Bible sanctifies Saturday as the Sabbath, many Christians regarded Sunday the day of the resurrection of Christ as the new holy day — especially because this distanced Christianity from Judaism.

    Constantine made Sunday rather than Saturday Saturn's Day the weekly holiday of the state religion of Sun-worship. Christian art began to adopt the pagan practice of depicting holy figures with crowns of sun rays the crown of Mithras or Sol invictusor with a halo.

    The Statue of Liberty wears a crown of sun rays. Constantine regarded himself to be the supreme spiritual leader of both the Sun-cults and of Christianity. Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople, a city he immodestly renamed after himself. Constantine called himself "first of the apostles" and he did not recognize the papacy of the bishop of Rome.

    Constantine called the first Council of Nicea Nicaea to resolve controversy and establish Christian orthodoxy. The Council of Nicea was the first ecumenical conference of Christian bishops, the nucleus of the institution which was to become the hierarchical Roman Catholic Church, dominated by celibate male priests.

    Celibate priests had not been part of the teachings of Jesus — many of his apostles, including Peter, were married. The Council sanctioned the efforts of IrenaeusEusebius and others who were establishing certain scriptures as the infallible canon of the New Testamentwhile declaring other scriptures to be heresy — notably Gnostic Gospels such as the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Thomaswhich support the idea that Mary Magdalene was an apostle and that salvation is possible without a church.

    With orthodox Christianity incorporated into the monolithic state religion, Christian "heretics" were heavily persecuted. The Church was pushed by political forces and pulled by the desire to co-opt a popular pagan holiday, despite a lack of evidence that Christ was born in December. Constantine built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the oldest continually operating churches in the world currently administered by a coalition of Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox clerics.

    Gnostics believed that spiritual is more important than physical, that the knowledge Christ brought to the world is far more important than his physical birth or crucifixion and that direct personal experience of God is of greater importance than churches or other institutions.

    The rebirth of the Greek god Dionysus had been celebrated on January 6th. Epiphany for Western churches means the visit of the Magi, whereas for the Eastern churches Epiphany is the anniversary of Christ's baptism.

    At age 30 he became the bishop of Myra now the city of Demre on the south coast of Turkey near the beginning of the fourth century. Soon after his appointment, the government of the Eastern Roman Empire jailed all Christian bishops who did not publicly sacrifice to the gods of Rome. Nicholas remained in prison for nearly ten years until Constantine conquered the East — ending the persecution of Christians.

    So many Christians had defected that the sacrament of confession was created, so that the "traitors" could cleanse their souls before re-entering the Christian Church. Nicholas was a vigorous opponent of Arianism, the belief of the Alexandrian bishop Arius that Christ was created by God and therefore independent of God and inferior to God — a form of polytheism intended to explain how Christ could be both human and divine.

    Nicholas reputedly not only attended Nicea, but physically accosted Arius there. The Nicene Creed supported the unity of God, Christ and the Holy Ghost as a single Being with God and Christ equally divine, but of the same divine substancethereby affirming the monotheism of Christianity. Constantine exiled Arius and ordered his books to be burned.

    Physicist Isaac Newton was probably secretly an Arianwith Newton regarding the worship of Jesus Christ as God to be sinful idolatry. Saint Nicholas became the subject of many legends. A sailor who fell overboard was reputedly saved by Nicholas when the saint walked on water, retrieved the sailor and carried him back to the ship.

    Nicholas took pity on a poverty-stricken family with 3 daughters who faced the threat of being forced into prostitution because they had no wedding dowries.

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    For two daughters he crept-up to their house at night and threw bags of gold through a bedroom window. For the last daughter, he threw a bag of gold down the chimney — which landed in a stocking she had set by the fireplace for drying. The bones of Saint Nicholas lay in his tomb in Myra until The Basilica di San Nicola was completed in the middle of the 12th century where the crypt was located. The legend of Nicholas made him so popular that more European churches bore his name than that of any of the apostles.

    He was made patron saint of Greece and Russia. The 3-ball symbol of pawnshops represents the three bags of gold he threw as dowries. On February 14, the Pope removed Nicholas from the calendar of saints — there are no records of Nicholas ever having been canonized.

    The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to recognize the sainthood of Nicholas. The fact that the date coincided with the completion of farm-work, the slaughtering of animals for the winter and a period of idleness, abundant food and celebration may actually be the real reason why it was celebrated with such enthusiasm. But the feast of Saint Nicholas was abolished in many European countries as part of Martin Luther's effort to stop the veneration of saints.

    Amsterdam has historically been a great seaport, and Saint Nicholas Sinterklaas as the protector of sailors has been its patron saint.

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    In Germany the assistant of St. Nicholas was Knecht Ruprecht, a "wild man" who was condemned as a manifestation of the devil by the Catholic Church. In Washington Irving, a member of the New York Historical Society which promoted a Dutch Saint Nicholas as its patron saintcreated a tale of a chubby, pipe-smoking little Saint Nicholas who road a magic horse through the air visiting all houses in New York.

    The elfish figure was small enough to climb down chimneys with gifts for the good children and switches for the bad ones. Moore may have been inspired by the Finnish legend of Old Man Winter, who drove reindeer down from the mountain, bringing the snow.

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    Following Irving's example, Moore's St. Nick was more an elf than a bishop. Unlike the earlier St. Nicks, this one brought no birch switches, only presents. And it was Moore who established that St. Nick brings presents on the night before Christmas rather than on Saint Nicholas Day or any other time.

    Nast transformed Santa into a full-sized human who somehow retained the ability to climb through chimneys, but who had a team of elf assistants. By Nast had drawn Santa as a large man with a white beard in a red suit trimmed with white fur. Thirty-five years of annual advertising by the Coca-Cola company using Sundblom's Santa solidified the contemporary image of Santa Claus but without the Coke.

    The first department store Santa Claus was at J. Parkinson's store in Philadelphia in Kriss Kringle dramatically came down a chimney for the children and Parkinson's became "Kriss Kringle Headquarters". The second department store to feature a Santa was in Massachusetts in By dozens of American department stores had Santas. In the s Gimbel's department store in Philadelphia, Macy's in New York, Hudson's in Detroit and many other department stores sponsored Thanksgiving parades that featured Santa Claus.

    As a compromise, a act of Congress established Thanksgiving as the fourth Thursday in November. The story was patterned after The Ugly Duckling, turning a genetically defective glowing nose into a foggy-night navigation asset. Originally distributed to children as an illustrated story, a decade later it became the theme of a song which was sung by Gene Autry, the "Singing Cowboy".

    Nubian-Kushite King and Queen (circa 1000 B.C.)

    Katherine Lee Bates who wrote the song " America the Beautiful " is credited with the invention of Mrs. Santa Claus in a poem written in Since that time Mrs.

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    Claus has often been depicted as a cheerful portly woman who spends her time at the north pole preparing Christmas foods. In England, as elsewhere, many churches had been dedicated to Saint Nicholas, but with the elimination of Catholicism "Father Christmas" reverted to associations with a green-clad elfish figure associated with pagan mid-winter festivals.

    Father Christmas did not distribute gifts and he was often the master of ceremonies for mummer's plays. Francis Church, one of the Sun's editorial writers wrote a "Yes, Virginia" reply which has become a classic example for adults fostering children's belief in Santa Claus.

    As children begin to question how Santa can visit every house, how a large man can fit in a chimney, how Santa can be in so many shopping malls at the same time, etc — many parents resort to increasingly strained explanations to maintain the fiction.

    The uncritical belief of children can be touchingly cute. The temptation to build a poetic fantasy-world in formative minds — removed from the harsh realities of life — can be great.

    Potential damage can result from erosion of trust when parents seriously try to convince their children that Santa Claus is a fact rather than a fairy tale. But if a parent can experience sentimental enchantment and love attached to the "game" of Santa Claus it would be hard to find much intention to deceive when no effort is made to mislead a child who begins to question. Some Christians can become uncomfortable with the God-like qualities of Santa Claus. He is all-knowing, has magical powers and distributes reward or punishment but nearly always reward, irrespective of how good or bad the child has been.

    For parents to lie to children to encourage them to believe in a false god in a red suit is viewed as a blasphemous substitute for recognition of the true God. Men interested in playing Santa Claus at Christmas-time are coming under increasing scrutiny.

    In some cases Santa is prohibited from being in the company of a child without a third adult apart from the parent being present.

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    Santa must not make promises to a child. Santa must keep both hands in plain view at all times. And Santa must not straddle a child on the knee — or perhaps not touch a child at all. Background checks and sensitivity training for aspiring Santas are increasing.

    Schools have been instituted to train those who wish to be professional Santas.

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