Sunday 22 September 2019

Editorial: 'St Stephen's lasting legacy gives us pause for thought'

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GK Chesterton loved to recall the "beautiful intentional paradox" on which Christmas is built; the celebration of the homeless in every home.

The rich gifts of warmth, happiness and health are not shared as equally as they might. Hopefully, the stockings hung by the chimney with care have not disappointed. For so many centuries, the exchange of gifts has held us together.

Last year, Irish families spent an average of €2,654 in the shops on the weeks coming up to December 25.

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Yet sometimes it is not so easy to know what is worth giving of true value.

The American humorist Oren Arnold gave this some thought and came up with the following advice:

"Seasonal gift suggestions:

To your enemy, forgiveness.

To an opponent, tolerance.

To a friend, your heart.

To all, charity.

To every child, a good example.

To yourself, respect."

On this, the morning after, you may be wondering who came up with the notion of a Santa Claus anyway. You can blame, or thank, the Dutch: it comes from their name for Saint Nicholas, Sinterklaas.

As to who was responsible for the great fir tree obscuring the TV set? The origin of the Christmas tree is attributed by some to the religious leader Martin Luther, in 1536.

One frosty winter's night, he was strolling through a pine forest near his home in Wittenberg when he was struck by the thousands of stars glinting jewel-like among the branches of the trees. The power of the celestial spectacle inspired him to set up a candle-lit fir tree in his house that Christmas to remind his children of the starry heavens, home to their Saviour.

But all over the world the day is marked in unique ways. In the Ukraine, it is the custom to hang spider web-shaped decorations on the tree. This reflects the Ukrainian legend of the poor widow who didn't have enough money to decorate her tree, but when her children awoke on Christmas Day, the tree was beautifully decked out in webs that glistened gold and silver in the morning light.

Russians celebrate Christmas on January 7. For Russian children, it is not Santa, but Babouschka, who brings gifts to children. Babouschka, meaning old woman or grandmother in Russian, is based on the Biblical story of the woman who didn't give a gift to the baby Jesus. So, to repent, she gives gifts to children. But given that today is St Stephen's Day, some thought should be given to him. According to Pope Benedict: "St Stephen died forgiving his persecutors for us to realise that the entry into the world of the Son of God gives rise to a new civilisation, the civilisation of love."

It was a legacy to be shared with all.

Irish Independent

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