2008: A Look Back

This time of year you can’t read the paper, watch television, listen to the radio, or peruse the internet without tripping over a “Top Ten” or “Best of” list.  It’s fun to hear other people’s views on the best and the worst and argue with friends on your personal lists.  I always enjoy New Year’s Eve as a time to not only look forward to the new year, but also look back on the one that has just past before the door slams shut forever.

I don’t keep a diary or a calendar, so looking back is usually a challenge and a memory exercise.  It always seems that “not much happened”, which usually sparks a long list of “gotta do this” for the upcoming year.  But, if you reflect on it long enough, memories come back to you, both good and bad, that helped to weave the tapestry that became 2008.

In the world of genealogy, the most significant event for me was starting this blog in January (more to come on that in about a week!).  From it, I’ve gained ideas for articles, encouragement to write more, creative inspiration, and a lot of people I have never met that I now think of as friends.  The most significant event with my family research this year was discovering the naturalization papers for my great-grandfather, Jan Piontkowski, which in turn led to his previously elusive passenger arrival record.  Finding my grandfather’s Poland-born brother’s baptismal record was a thrill, because now I have a definite location in the city of Warsaw to search for the parents’ marriage record (on my to-do list for 2009).  I also connected with some cousins and as a result received some photos of my Pater great-grandfather’s sisters.  Bergmeister cousins in Germany also found me as a result of this blog.

In more personal genealogical news, my father’s first cousin died, we welcomed the news of a nephew’s birth in 2009, my cousin added a daughter to the family in September, and my niece and nephew gained a new cousin in September!  I also said good-bye to a dear friend, Deirdre Mullen, who died in October at the age of 87 years young.  I hadn’t seen Deirdre’s smile since we met on a trip to Italy in 2000, but I received her smile at least twice a year in the form of birthday and Christmas cards.  Continue to pray for me, friend.

This year I tried to spend more time with family and friends – but it never feels like enough, despite some memorable dinners and events.  I finally put a name on something that had tormented me for a while – diverticulitis!  But, I also found out the one food that seems to cause the problem for me (peanuts, oh how I miss you…).  My travels for work were almost non-existent, but my vacation took me to Venice, where I learned it’s not always sunny but still beautiful, and Croatia, where I learned that you can’t get there from here, there are few vowels, and they make great wine.

Despite some great, and therefore unusual, summer weather locally, I somehow only made it to the beach once.  That mistake will not happen in 2009.  I said good-bye to my beloved, beleaguered car after seven years.  After waiting for 28 years, I finally saw the Philadelphia Phillies win the World Series!  My connection to other “world news” was when I watched my retirement money quickly disappear by leaps and bounds, and I finally developed an interest in politics – only to suffer the agony of defeat.

I’m usually behind when it comes to music, books, and other forms of entertainment, so my “best of” lists don’t necessarily include anything that was actually released in 2008.  Favorite reads this year:  Forever by Pete Hamill, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, Replay by Ken Grimwood, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.  And hundreds of others I can’t quite recall! In music, I loved Sister Hazel’s Before the Amplifiers: Live Acoustic, found and adored the Foo Fighers’ cover to Band on the Run, and enjoyed my iPod enormously.  I remembered how much I love Indiana Jones, but wished my memory would have been preserved as it was without The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull to defile it.  I relished the fact that Lost got way better, then was disappointed when it disappeared for months.  There’s always a new show I “kill” by liking it – good-bye New Amsterdam – you were a genealogist’s delight!

Finally, the best things about the year were falling in love with my nephew Nicholas’ smile, my niece Ava’s beauty and wit, and my niece Natalie’s maturing grace and beauty.  My beau and I laughed uncontrollably while on vacation, remembering how good it is to just be stoo-pid and relaxed.  I enjoyed listening to my parents’ stories and spending time with them. I toasted to life with my best friends.  All in all, I’d say it was a very good year.  See ya later, 2008 – there’s a new friend knocking on my door!


New Year’s Genealogy Resolutions

by footnoteMaven.com

by footnoteMaven.com

I’ve always hated the term “resolutions” as it applies to New Year’s, mostly because the word evokes difficult things like exercise and hard work.  Instead, I try to make a list of some fun things I want to accomplish during the year, like things to do or places to go.  It may not be as useful for self-improvement, but the list itself is more satisfying to write and accomplish!  But, even with “fun” things, one has to be careful of what one wishes for…one of the things I wanted to do last year was start a genealogy blog, and now look what’s happened!

I’ve come up with a few genealogy-related goals for 2009.  I did the same for 2008, but since I didn’t have a public blog in which to broadcast those goals, they can remain undisclosed to protect my pride.  For 2009, I hope to:

  • Go back one more generation on each of my great-grandparents’ lines – for a few, that means research in the 1600’s; for others, it means finding out who their parents were in the late 1800’s.  This may sound either daunting to beginners or too unfocused to experienced researchers, but I want to get back into the basics of research, and I have a hard time focusing on just one family for too long.
  • Get back to the library – the Family History Library, that is.  I haven’t been there in quite some time, despite the fact that I’ve lived much closer to it for the last several years.  I will need to do this to accomplish my previous goal!
  • In a combination of the above two goals, I want to find some missing details on my Bavarian ancestry.  I can go back several generations, but I am missing some vital information from a much closer time period, about 1875-1895.  This information hasn’t caused a problem with any proof of ancestry, but I want to find some death information to complete the facts for these families.
  • Keep writing – both with this blog as well as magazine articles.  I won’t commit to it as a “resolution”, but it’s time to do more than “just think” about some book ideas, too.  I have some new ideas for What’s Past is Prologue for the upcoming year, but my readers will hear more about that later in the week when I celebrate a Very Special Holiday.

What are your goals to jump-start your research next year?

[Written for the 63rd Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: New Year’s Resolutions]

When Times Change

The other day I learned of the death of an old friend – the VCR.  A news report told me that VHS tapes are no longer being produced.  While that does not come as a complete surprise, it still shocked me.  Why? Because it means that I am getting old.  When inventions of your childhood are replaced by newer, better inventions and you start to reminisce about the “good old days”, you’ve become a relic yourself!

SYSTEM, Video Home.  Died 27 December 2008 after a long period of declining health. Mr. System, called VHS by his friends, was the son of the late Mr. & Mrs. Betamax.  He was thirty-two years old and was predeceased by his spouse, VHS-C.  VHS is survived by children, DVD and HD-DVD, and grandchildren Tivo and Blue-Ray.

Several years ago my parents began to reminisce about their childhoods.  After listening to them wax poetic about the ice chest, ice deliveries, wood burning stoves, gas lamplighters, horse-drawn wagons, radio programs, and incoming phone calls to the store down the street, I jokingly asked, “What century were you guys born in?”  I knew they were born in the 1930s, but the things they remembered seem so far removed from my own life that surely they were kidding.  But then my mother posed an interesting response: “Look at all the changes that have happened just in your lifetime and you’ll see what we mean!”

She was right, of course – mothers always are, and it suddenly dawned on me that the future was now.  When I was in the second grade, the phone company (or rather, The phone company since there was only one back then) sponsored a fun contest – design the phone of the future. For kids reading this today, realize that phones had cords back then.  I’m even old enough to know what a rotary phone is – and to have actually used one!  So, we all designed fabulous phones that were more akin to science fiction than to reality.  One of the most popular designs was a phone to go in your car…just imagine!  A phone in your car!  Others tried to imagine a way to know who was calling.  My design was a “video phone” where you could actually see the person you were talking to on a little screen.  We all had fun with that contest, but I don’t think any of us imagined that most of our dream phones would be a reality by the time we were 30.  They became reality, and then some.  Cell phones, caller ID, VoIP? My first cell phone was barely worthy of being labeled a “mobile” phone – it was a ten pound clunky box with the receiver attached by a cord.  Today’s cell phones are smaller than we ever thought possible, and they do things that would simply astound my grandparents, like take photos and play movies.

There have been many other inventions since my youth.  The ATM is an amazing concept – really, kids, you used to have to go inside of a bank during working hours to get some money. Over the years I’ve said good-bye to vinyl and cassettes and I’ve embraced CDs and MP3s.  Digital photography took longer to gain a hold on me, but now I can’t go back to my once-beloved film.  But the VCR and its VHS tapes was simply one of the most magical inventions of my youth.  When the Betamax appeared, I begged my parents for one.  I loved television, and the thought of being able to watch my favorites whenever I wanted to was intoxicating.  But, the price tag was much too high – similar to today’s “flat screen” tvs – and it was out of the question.

We finally got a VCR in 1985, rather late to the party.  Amazingly, that same machine still works after hundreds of hours of recording and many more of playback.  While I prefer my movies on DVD now for quality, I continue to use a VCR to tape tv shows I want to watch later.  But apparently not for much longer…

Is this how my parents felt when record albums went away? Or how my grandparents felt when that last horse-drawn delivery cart came down the street?

I can’t even begin to imagine what devices will be part of my nieces and nephews lives 30-40 years from now.  All I know is that, back when I was their age, if you would have shown me a DVD player that you could hold on your lap in the back seat of the car, I’d have been dumbstruck.  You see, back in the “good” old days, all we had for entertainment on car rides was looking out the window, conversation, and fighting with siblings.  Well, at least they still have that…

Which generation is living the good days?  All of us! What do inventions have to do with genealogy? While reminiscing about them won’t help you find any ancestral names, realizing we are all a part of history is important – even “historical” things we take for granted like telephones and televisions.

Good-bye, VHS.  I will miss you.  But, all things must pass.  And, in time, we’re all replaced by the next generation!

‘Twas just days before Christmas

‘Twas just days before Christmas and all through the ‘net
Bloggers were quiet, even the Graveyard Rabbit.
Some were snowed in, all covered in ice
With some frightful weather that’s really not nice.

Others were busy with presents and wrap,
While some settled in for a long winter’s nap.
But then Genea-Santa made it home from the mall
And with urgency put out a very frantic call.

“Oh genea-bloggers, can you help me so?
Someone has asked for their ancestors to know.
I’m used to toys, books, and games on the list,
My elves tried Ancestry.com and can’t get the gist.”

“Can you please help?” good Santa did ask,
“So I can complete this impossible task?”
Before Old St. Nick barely finished his post
The bloggers started to answer, from coast to coast.

First Sheri, then Jasia, and Terry from Monroe County,
Then Randy, then Lisa, and Thomas upped the bounty.
Many sources did footnoteMaven then cite,
while Donna and Becky joined in the plight.

Steve and Miriam and DearMyrtle too
Used Census and newspapers to find every last clue.
The charts were all filled and ready for Santa’s sack,
Combined we had traced twelve generations back!

Santa was impressed, the pedigree had nary a hole
“Can you help me find my folks from the North Pole?”
We said we’d try, maybe next year.
Our promise left him jolly and full of good cheer.

So he subscribed to our blogs, to join in our fun
And said he’d return when his hard work was done
Santa signed off, having found what he sought
“Merry Christmas to all, may your searching not be for naught!”

-with many apologies to and great appreciation of Mr. Clement Clarke Moore…(and apologies to the many genea-bloggers I left out for space and rhyming constraints!)

Christmas Memories

Here’s a look at some of my family’s favorite Christmas memories!

Note: This is my first attempt using Slide.  There is not as much control as I’d like, but it was a little faster than creating an avi or mpg of my own.  But, the music isn’t alwasy timed the same, so sometimes it ends perfectly at the last shot, and other times it starts repeating the photos!

A Letter from Santa: the Next Generation

Well, it’s true what “they” say that kids today have it all.  There’s nothing like being “one-upped” by your niece.  While I was fortunate as an 8-year-old in 1975 to receive a letter from one of Santa’s elves, Ziggy, my niece Natalie received a letter from Santa himself!  Can you believe it?  I was certainly impressed!  Natalie was 6 years old.  She also received a letter the following year, so Santa must really like her! This second letter – with impeccable handwriting in a lovely purple ink – was found under the tree:

Dearest Natalie,

Your Daddy told me that you have been a very good girl this year. I have been keeping a close eye on you and I’m pleased that you are doing so well. I am especially happy with your progress in school and how well you did in soccer – especially how quickly you made new friends.

Since I am very busy this time of year, not everyone can get a special letter like this one.  But your Daddy said that you have been extra special.  Your Daddy and Alleah must love you an awful lot and think you are a very precious girl to receive a special letter from me two years in a row!

Be sure to be a good girl this year and remember to always be kind and generous to other people – remember, not everyone is as lucky as you are…

Merry Christmas!  Love,

Santa Claus

Natalie, Christmas 2001

Natalie, Christmas 2001

If Natalie wasn’t lucky enough already, the letters and presents weren’t all that Santa left behind.  One year, he forgot his sleigh bells in his rush to get to the next house!  Natalie still has them in case Santa needs them back, but so far he hasn’t asked for them. Now she can share the story of that Christmas morning with her little sister and brother.  Who knows, maybe someday they’ll be lucky, too, and get a letter from Santa.

A Letter from Santa?

Well, not quite…  Just before Christmas, 1975, when I was eight years old, one afternoon the mailman delivered a curious letter marked “Special Delivery”, “Air Mail”, and the most exciting mark of all – “North Pole”!  Was it really a letter from Santa addressed to me?  No, but it was the next best thing – a letter from one of Santa’s elves, Ziggy!  The letter read as follows:

North Pole – 9 Days to Go -16 December 1975

Dear Donna,

Santa is very busy.  He asked me to write this letter because I am assigned to Philadelphia in the U.S.  Twenty years ago I worked in Spain.  Now I only work the U.S. since I learned how to read and write English.

Santa says all the kids want the same toys this year.  He promised to do the best he can do to give you what is on your list.

Do you still have that black & white cat?  Was your First Communion Day a nice one? Don’t tell any other kids about this letter because I don’t have time to write any of them and they’ll be jealous.

Felice Navidad.  No!  No!  I mean Merry Christmas!


The letter was printed in block lettering that looked suspiciously like my father’s.  The signature, however, did not resemble my father’s handwriting.  I was confused.  I was convinced he wrote it, but that did not diminish my belief in Santa Claus one bit!  I remember thinking, even at 8 years old, that it was nice of my parents to do that for me.  At the same time, I wondered if it was real – what if?  The black and white cat was Lou C (see “Cats Ruled This Family”).  The reason he asked about my First Communion Day was because it had only been about two weeks earlier. [Our parish priest decided our class was “not ready” in May, when First Communions are usually held.  About 160 mothers nearly had a stroke when he told our parents the new date in December.  They had visions of us freezing in our white dresses and suits.  But God and our mothers’ prayers prevailed…on December 6, 1975, the temperature in Philadelphia was 57 degrees, 20+ degrees warmer than usual.  But, I digress…]

I bet you didn’t know that Santa had an elf named Ziggy.  My parents told me long before that Ziggy accompanied Santa on his visits, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the name.  Looking at the letter today with older eyes, I see a few other things.  Like it appears that Santa is running a corporation of some sort with elves assigned to different parts of the world.  He’s too busy?  Doing what – shopping?  The elves are the ones making the toys, right?  He promises to do his best? I thought you sent your letter to Santa to get what you wanted!  Apparently Santa is a slave-driver, because poor Ziggy is too busy to even write to any other kids.  And it’s a good thing he learned English, because his memory of how to say Feliz Navidad is a little rusty!

With my old(er) eyes, I guess I’ve been “affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age” but like “faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance” it’s the wonderful things parents do for their children that “make glad the heart of childhood”. And that is what I see clearly!  Thanks for the memory, Ziggy.  I hope you’re not retired so you can pay a visit to my house this year.  I moved since then, and there’s no cat to welcome you, but I have a feeling you’ll visit anyway – if you’re not too busy!  [Quotes from Francis Church’s letter to Virginia O’Hanlon in 1897.]

Yes, Donna, There is a Genea-Santa

Dear Genea-Santa,

I haven’t written to you for quite a while.  In fact, it was back when your name was just Santa.  But now that you’ve branched out into genealogical gifts, there are three wishes I’d like granted.  Could you please leave these things under my tree this year?

  1. Photos of Jan and Rozalia Piontkowski.  You know where to find them (I sure don’t!).  I’d love to see what my great-grandparents looked like.
  2. Photos of the Pater family.  One that definitely existed is the photo of my great-grandmother, Elizabeth Miller Pater.  But I’m sure there are others.  The family had seven children – surely there is at least one of my great-grandfather, Louis Pater, as a younger man.  Just in case you can’t find these, I’d be satisfied with the genealogy that my granduncle Victor Pater supposedly researched back “500 years” from the U.S. to Poland to England. Uncle Victor died at the age of 32, and no one knows what happened to his research.  I’d be happy with either the Pater photos or his research!
  3. My great-grandmother Wacława Slesinska Zawodna’s sewing machine.

That’s it, Genea-Santa.  I’ve been good this year, so I really hope you can deliver! I’ll leave the light on for you…


[Written for the 62nd Edition of the Carnival of Genealogy: Three Wishes]

O Night Divine

Today many genea-bloggers will go blog-caroling together by blogging about our favorite Christmas carol.  The flannel-jammied yet stylish footnoteMaven will post a round-up of all of our favorite carols.  And the best part?  You don’t have to hear us actually sing.

If I had been asked about my favorite Christmas song as I was growing up, I’m not sure what my answer what have been.  Today, I wouldn’t miss a beat before I answered – “O Holy Night”.  I like to listen to Christmas songs as I decorate or wrap presents.  Several years ago, “O Holy Night” was playing in the background (either the Mariah Carey or Celine Dion version).  I had heard the song countless times over the years, but, for the very first time, one line jumped out at me and I truly listened to it for the first time in my life.  The line that struck me was: Long lay the world in sin and error, pining, ’til He appeared and the soul felt its worth. My soul (and my eyes) flooded as I understood the meaning of those words like never before, and the beautiful, wondrous mystery of the Incarnation, the true meaning of Christmas, became clear to me.  So join with me in singing my favorite Christmas song:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Behold your King.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

This song also has an interesting history behind it.  The words were written by Placide Cappeau, a French wine merchant who wrote poetry in his spare time.  In 1847, his parish priest asked him to write a Christmas poem, and Cappeau obliged by imagining the night Christ was born.  The poem, Cantique de Noel, was written in a coach as he traveled to Paris.  When Cappeau arrived, he sought out his friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, to compose music to accompany it. The result? A Christmas classic!  But not immediately – the song fell out of favor as Cappeau drew away from the Church and towards the socialist movement.  An American abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight, was struck by the last verse of the song.  He translated the song into English.  The hymn was published during the Civil War and quickly became a favorite.  It’s certainly my favorite!

For more information on the song, its lyrics, and its history, visit the following sites:

My Stocking Stuffer


The word prompt for the 8th Edition of Smile For The Camera is Stocking Stuffer: Show us that picture that would make a great Stocking Stuffer and tell us whose stocking you’d stuff. My stocking stuffer is my nephew all dressed up for Christmas in his “Santa” hat (even if you can’t quite see the red part) and garland beads:

Nicholas, December 2007

Nicholas, December 2007

I’d stuff him in the stockings of any of my friends who need a smile or a hug.  Because how can you look at him and not smile?

[Note to Nicky’s sisters: I usually provide equal time to all of my gorgeous and much loved nieces and nephews, but your little brother won out on this occasion when I had to choose just one photo with a Christmas theme…don’t worry, you’ll get your spotlight – there is plenty of room on Aunt Donna’s blog!]

[Written for the 8th Edition of the Smile for the Camera Carnival: Stocking Stuffer!]

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

Today we commemorate December 7, 1941, the date which has lived in infamy.  My family was not directly affected by the attack on Pearl Harbor; we had no relatives in the military , and my parents were young children.  However, as an American, all were affected by the attack, including those of us that were not born yet, for it set events in motion that changed the world and made history.

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, HI

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, HI

I have had two unique opportunities to visit the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  My visits were unique because they were a bit outside of an ordinary tourist’s experience.  My first visit was in February, 1999 with a group of U.S. Army chaplains.  The site was closed to just our group, and since they were all chaplains of various faiths, we said a brief, multi-denominational prayer for the souls of the more than one thousand men entombed beneath the memorial, as well as the many other men, women, and children who died that day.  To stand on that spot in total silence while surrounded by men who were in service to both God and country, all offering up a prayer for the dead, was inspiring. The impact of that day and the horror of the sinking ships is felt in full force on that site. Sometimes sights, smells, or sounds will cause us to remember an event.  For me, whenever I hear the sound of a lanyard clanging against a flagpole, I remember this day, because that was the only sound as we prayed and remembered in silence.


My second visit to Pearl Harbor was in December, 2002.  I was there with a group of government employees, and there were so many of us in the group that we had a VIP visit to the memorial.  We stood silently to remember.  A few days later, we had the great honor of being at the 61st memorial ceremony on December 7, 2002.  The speaker for the ceremony was John William Finn, who received the Medal of Honor for his heroism on that fateful day.  But Mr. Finn, still vigorous at the age of 92 (now 99), insisted that he wasn’t there to talk about “me, me, me or I, I, I” – he was there, he said, “to remember my shipmates” as the heroes of that day.  What a privilege to have heard Mr. Finn recount his experiences.

President Roosevelt’s famous “infamy” speech (SOURCE: HyperWar) concludes with these words before he asks Congress to declare war on Japan:

But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces—with the unbounding determination of our people—we will gain the inevitable triumph—so help us God.

Today, let us remember the 2,350 who died that day, which included 68 civilians and 1,177 sailors stationed on the Arizona. Let us also remember the men whose lives were changed by this day as they were inspired to fight for America!

Remembering St. Nicholas

Soon that jolly, white-haired man dressed in red will visit your house at night and deliver some treats to the children that have been good.  In fact, the night he comes is tonight!  Wait, did you think I meant Santa Claus?  No, it’s time for the visit from St. Nicholas!

1914 St. Nicholas Magazine Calendar, St Nicholas Center Collection

1914 St. Nicholas Magazine Calendar, St Nicholas Center Collection

St. Nicholas lived during the 4th Century in a Greek territory that today is Turkey.  Many legends exist about his life.  Most agree that he came from a wealthy family.  After becoming orphaned, Nicholas used his wealth to help the poor and needy.  He devoted his life to God and became a bishop in the Church.  He continued to perform acts of charity, usually in secret, and he was known throughout the region for his goodness.  In giving gifts, he asked that the recipients do the same to those in need.  By the time Bishop Nicholas died, he was known as a miracle-worker, gift-giver, and a true man of God who cared about others.

It became customary around the world to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas, December 6th, by doing what he had done.  On the evening of December 5th, gifts would be left in secret to those in need, presumably left by the saint himself.  He would wander throughout the country and leave gifts for children.  In fact, some children would leave food for St. Nicholas’ means of travel, a donkey.

Many countries continue the celebration of St. Nicholas Day. In Germany, the area of Bavaria where my great-grandparents came from celebrated the arrival of Sankt Nikolaus. He would arrive in his bishop’s regalia with a miter and crozier and ask the children if they had been good.  Families cleaned the house and children cleaned their rooms in anticipation of his arrival!  Boots were left out, and the kindly saint would leave a gift to those who were good – or coal to those who were not.

In Poland, St. Nicholas was called Sw. Mikołaj. He also visited dressed as a bishop and an angel to help him with his sleigh full of goodies, which were usually sweets such as cookies or fruit.  He also encouraged children to be on their best behavior.  He sometimes returned on Christmas Eve with gifts the children requested in letters.

I laughed when I learned that Italy celebrates San Nicola by recalling the time they stole his earthly remains in the 11th Century and brought them to Italy.  It’s not like it sounds though, for they had a good reason!  (Though relic stealing was quite popular back then…)  The celebration of his “arrival” to Bari is celebrated in May, but he also visits children with goodies on the evening of December 5th.

Many countries have similar celebrations and traditions of the saint’s arrival.  So, what happened to him?  Did he “become” Santa Claus?  Or did Santa “replace” the bishop-saint?  In America, the blame gets distributed on the usual suspects: the Puritans, the advertising industry, and the media.  One could argue that he slowly evolved into Santa.  I don’t have anything against Santa – in fact, he’s been quite good to me over the years!  But in reading about St. Nicholas and the traditions that our ancestors celebrated made me wish he had the same PR man as Mr. Claus.  What parent wouldn’t admire a guy who gets children to clean their rooms and be good?  Sure, Santa wants you to be good, too, but St. Nicholas was more about helping those in need and sharing what we have with others.  Over the years the religious aspects of the man and the events surrounding the gift-giving seemed to have disappeared as well.  But, we can always revive the St. Nicholas tradition in our own families by spreading the news and telling the stories about him.  Nick’s stories are even more fascinating than Santa’s stories!

For more information on Saint Nicholas, his history, the evolution of Santa Claus, and how St. Nicholas Day is celebrated throughout the world, visit the wonderful site called The Saint Nicholas Center – discovering the truth about Santa Claus.  In fact, just as I noted in my recent article about the photographic reconstruction of another Nicholas, they have reconstructed what he probably looked like — familiar-looking, isn’t he?