CENTER STAGE: The legendary St. Nicholas of Myra appears at St. Nicholas Church in Struthers. Sunday’s service included prayer, songs, the filling of the shoes and the story of the candy cane.


WATCHING: Marissa Orbin, 4, is held by her sister, Angelina, 7, during St. Nick’s visit.

By Sean Barron

Struthers church marks feast with message, songs

‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is rich with religious meaning, a speaker told his audience of about 200.

Many people still associate Christmas and the meaning of Santa Claus with gift giving and receiving.

The main focus of the holiday season, however, should be on appreciating the generosity of Jesus Christ, the kindness of St. Nicholas and the origin and embodiment of Santa Claus.

That was the main message behind Sunday’s second annual Evening With St. Nicholas of Myra program at St. Nicholas Church, 764 Fifth St., Struthers.

Storytelling, poetry, songs and prayers filled the hourlong celebration, which was part of the church’s Advent preparation for the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It also was in keeping with Sunday’s being recognized as the feast of St. Nicholas, which includes the traditional filling of the shoes.

About 200 people gathered for the program, which featured the reading of a Sept. 21, 1897, letter 8-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun questioning the existence of Santa Claus, and the paper’s response.

The editor explained to the New York City girl that no one sees Santa Claus, but that can’t be taken as proof he doesn’t exist. The reply also states that “most real things” aren’t seen and rely largely on faith and love to understand and appreciate.

The letter became famous and was the origin of the well-known phrase “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Telling the story of Santa Claus was Dr. Phil Ginnetti, dean of Youngstown State University’s College of Education, who explained that St. Nicholas was renowned for his kindness and generosity, as well as miracles he performed and his love for children — which led to his being adopted as their patron saint.

“For the children of the Netherlands, Dec. 6 is still more exciting than Christmas Day,” Ginnetti said. “[St. Nicholas’] arrival is celebrated, and this is the day when children receive their presents.”

The “filling of the shoes” tradition saw youngsters placing hay, carrots or sugar in their clogs, then spreading a sheet on the ground to await St. Nicholas’ arrival, Ginnetti continued. The next morning, those items would be replaced with gifts; chairs were overturned to show he had been there, Ginnetti said.

The dean also discussed the religious symbolism of the famous song “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” noting, for example, that the partridge in the pear tree represents Jesus Christ, who died on the cross. Others include the two turtle doves, which stand for the Old and New Testaments; five golden rings, which represent the first five books of the Bible; and the 10 lords-a-leaping, which are the Ten Commandments.

Rounding out the program was the story of the candy cane and its symbolism of the birth, ministry and death of Jesus Christ.

The treat starts with pure white, hard material, the color of which stands for the Virgin Birth and sinless ways of Jesus; a large red stripe was for the blood shed by Jesus on the cross, Ginnetti explained.

Leading the congregation in prayer and several popular Christmas songs was the Rev. Bob Bonnot, pastor at St. Nicholas.

After the program, many attendees gathered for fellowship and viewed an exhibit of several posters that told stories, legends and traditions related to St. Nicholas, as well as his transformation to Santa Claus.

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