Postcard from Valencia, Spain: Why women love Santa Claus

In Spain, women seeking intercession from Saint Nicholas (270-343) traditionally walk from their homes to the nearest church dedicated to him to pray on three consecutive Mondays. If that distance is too great or their health too frail, any church with a statue of him can be substituted. In Italy, young women yearning to find appropriate mates leave three coins for Saint Nicholas in the donation box.

Their devotion stems back to an early generous action by the young man who would become a bishop and saint. Nicholas was born into an affluent family in Turkey in the second half of the second century, but his parents died of the plague. Their death left him alone, but wealthy.

As the story goes, a man living nearby had three daughters of marriageable age (an age now categorized as well underage) for whom he had not been able to find suitable suitors willing to pay the dowries he desired. Upon hearing the man planned to obtain funds by launching his daughters into careers of prostitution, Nicholas anonymously left a cloth bundle of gold on three consecutive nights at the man’s house – sparing the young women (children, if you prefer) from subjection to their father’s plans for their future.

He is valued as the patron saint of many causes, children being the major one. Possibly his role as protector of children stems from the above story and also a gruesome tale of a child he saved from a crazed butcher. It’s not hard to imagine how the bearded image and his sly deposit of sacks bearing gifts evolved into American traditions relating to, as we affectionately call him, Santa Claus.

Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of brewers, perhaps because he took grain from the rich to give to the poor. Maybe grain needed to make beer? Sailors prayed to entrust him to guide their ships through storms, after Nicholas was said to have brought a sailor back to life after the man fell from the mast of his ship in rough seas.

The purported powers of Saint Nicholas’ remains are so potent, daring military maneuvers have been made to obtain them. After the Turks took over Myra, sailors from Bari, Italy, staged a raid to seize his relics in 1087. Venetians later did the same to capture the few shards they had left behind. In Bari, the bones are said to exude myrrh, which smells like rosewater and has miraculous capabilities. The precious myrrh is collected in a flask annually on his day, December 8, and small vials are available for purchase.

Residents of Valencia are fortunate to have a major church dedicated to Saint Nicholas, and tourists are not allowed to interrupt the Monday visitations by the faithful praying for his assistance. The church was founded in the 13th century, but the interior was heavily baroqued up at the end of the 15th.

The church also houses an important statue of Saint Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of lost causes, who attracts crowds seeking his intercession as well. Many of the Monday women are known to pause to pray to both, as some of their problems involve men who might be regarded as lost causes.

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. OMG! Turkeys bombing the crowd ‘like sacks of wet cement!’

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  My family does not just come to dinner; they start arriving Monday.  We party all week long, and I never have to touch the naked turkey.  My sisters generously fly in to take care of the enormous, slippery, uncooperative bird and assign the vegetables to me.  I only cooked the innards in the plastic bag inside the turkey once (an extremely stupid place to store them), but it seems seared in the family’s collective memory.

Turkeys always bring a smile to my face, though, because of that great WKRP episode that should be shown on the first day of any introductory public relations course.  The longer version on youtube is worth watching, but the link below is whittled down to 30 seconds for those of us with short attention spans:

Unfortunately, this show aired in 1978, after the grand media opening I was allowed to orchestrate for the first (and last) Fall Festival on the River Walk.   I had spent several months contacting festival organizers and attractions from throughout South Texas to send mascots and representatives to ride in an opening parade.  This was no easy task; it required much begging and pleading.  I can still hear echoes of the Cuero man’s drawling voice beginning each sentence he uttered over the phone to me with:  “Now little girl….”

This parade was a low-budget, one-barge affair.  Conflicts arose immediately.  Having majored in international relations with hopes of bringing peace to the world working at the United Nations, one would have thought college would have left me better prepared to keep peace among South Texans.  But, for some reason, the sparkling-crowned Miss South Texas was highly offended to be sentenced to ride on the same barge as Miss Vacant Lot of the World from Victoria, not to mention the rest of the barnyard on board.  Ruby Begonia, the racing turkey from Cuero, was frightening the swimming pig from Aquarena Springs…. it’s too painful to go on….

When the barge finally pulled away from the patio in front of The Kangaroo Court, I sat down on the stairs of the David Straus Memorial Footbridge, my throat parched from the tense negotiations.  I took a large gulp from the cup in my hand.  Alas, it was not beer, but a gift from the Caveman from Natural Bridge Caverns and his goat (whose name was something like Hi-Ho-Heidi-Ho?) – fresh, warm goat’s milk.

Oh, how I wished that cautionary WKRP episode had aired first.

One would think I would have been fired for this public relations fiasco, but my boss, Claire Regnier, had done something even worse to try to attract attention to Paseo del Rio in those early days when the sidewalks were often devoid of humans.  She had talked a zookeeper into bringing a hibernating alligator to ride a barge with Wendy and Captain Hook.  Ah, but it was a warm winter day.  The sun shone on the alligator’s back, and his tail soon began to twitch, then flail.  To the horror of those on the banks, Wendy shrieked and made an ungraceful leap from the barge.  No gangplank needed.

Leaving you with the turkey tribulations endured by the residents of La Conner, Washington, where they lack the wisdom of South Texans who know turkeys are for racing, and the hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving week as much as I plan to….

Update on November 21:  Following the foraging option for vegetables might get me fired from side dishes as well….