Who was the Real Saint Nicholas, also known as St. Nick, Santa Claus? And...How is Saint Nicholas Remembered in the Czech Republic?
It is late evening, somewhere in Central Europe, and three seemingly incongruent beings are roaming the cities, villages, and mountain towns of this small Slavic land. One is dressed as a bishop from the fourth century, complete with white robe, white beard and mustache, a shepherd’s staff, and mitre (bishop’s hat). Another is wearing horns, dark make-up, black clothes, and a red cape. He is jangling a long and heavy chain and has a black bag he keeps opening up in a threatening manner towards children. The third is an angel, wearing a white robe and wings. The “bishop” and “angel” are smiling gently. The bishop is carrying a bag of goodies to hand out to good kids, while the “devil” is laughing wickedly, jangling his chains, and looking for kids to put in his bag.
As the three visit homes and churches, children are brought to them. The bishop asks the children and parents if they had behaved well the previous year. Before the children can answer, the devil cackles loudly, menacingly jangles his chain, and says, “I know you’ve been a naughty child. You will come with me in my bag and I will take care of you forever.” At this moment, the child comes forth and sings a song, or recites a poem. Little “Jan” assures the bishop and devil that he has been a very good boy. The devil grimaces in pain, and says, “I thought for sure I would get this one.” The angel says, “I knew he was a good boy this year.” Little Jan sighs in relief, receives either a piece of fruit or candy, and the older kids and the parents laugh.
Every year, on the evening of December 5th in the Czech Republic, this play is acted out by thousands of bishops, angels, and devils and millions of families. The bishop, angel, and devil and parents are partners in teaching the children to be good in a way that reminds them of the ramifications of their behavior on Earth.
December 6th is the day set aside in the Roman Catholic Church to remember Saint Nicholas (Svaty Mikulas in Czech). Saint Nicholas was a fourth century bishop who lived on the Mediterranean Sea in the Roman Empire, in present-day Turkey. During Bishop Nicholas’ lifetime, stories abounded of his generosity and of miraculous events associated with him. One story is how a poor family that was considering to sell their daughters into slavery received golden apples by a mysterious person they believed to be Nicholas. Another story is how Nicholas appeared to distressed sailors on the ocean and calmed the seas. Bishop Nicholas was known by all to be incredibly generous to children. (In America, we call him “Santa Claus.”)
In the ninth century, Greek missionaries Cyril and Method converted the Slavic peoples to Christianity and created the various Slavic alphabets. Stories of Saint Nicholas’ generosity spread throughout the Slavic lands and throughout the Christian world. Sometime in the Medieval Ages, the tradition of the benevolent bishop and malevolent devil visiting families began. Originally, children were questioned on their knowledge of the Bible. Today, though, the kids get to escape the devil’s snares by reciting a poem or singing a song.
Nearly all Czech families participate in this tradition, which often takes place in the middle of St. Nicholas parties. Similar festivities on the eve or day of St. Nicholas take place throughout Europe and in some parts of the United States. In many places, it has become a secular holiday, including the Czech Republic. Since the Communist rule of this land from 1948-1989, most Czechs are professed atheists. However, they all still partake in the Svaty Mikulas festitivies, and it appears the children are strongly influenced by Bishop Nicholas, the angel and the devil to be good kids for at least one more year.
1. What day are the Czechs celebrating on December 6th?
2. Why are they celebrating this person?
3. During which years did the Communists control Czechoslovakia?
4. Name one effect Communist rule most likely had on Czechs?
5. What do Americans call Saint Nicholas?
On March 22, 2016, Islamic terrorists from the organization Islamic State (also known as DAESH) killed over 30 and wounded up to 230 in coordinated attacks in Brussels, Belgium, at the international airport and a subway station. Shortly after the attacks, Islamic State’s news agency claimed responsibility. Belgian authorities think suicide bombers attacked the airport at 8 a.m. and a third suicide bomber hit a subway station at 9 a.m. Authorities are looking into the possibility of attackers who are on the run.
Days before this attack, Salah Abdeslam, one of the suspects in the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris, had been captured in Brussels. Authorities believe that fighters in Abdeslam’s terrorist cell believed they were going to be caught soon, and this is why they may have attacked.
A terrorist cell is a group of terrorists who plan attacks together. Each cell member knows each other and protects each other at all times. It is also possible that the terrorist cell members’ families hide and protect the terrorists from the authorities. What is common in a cell is that only one or two of the cell members have information regarding the wider terrorist organization. A terrorist cell is organized this way so that if one or two of the cell members are captured, it is possible the authorities can not discover information about the larger terrorist organization.
World leaders of the west denounced the attacks. French President Francois Hollande was quick to denounce the attackers and signal that this was not just an attack against Belgium, but against all of Europe. Hollande stated, “Terrorism has struck Belgium, but it was Europe that was targeted and everyone is affected.” President Barack Obama, in Cuba, stated, “This is yet another reminder that the world must unite” to counter terrorist groups.
The Paris terrorist attacks in 2015 placed Brussels as a center of Islamic radicalism in Europe. In November 2015, Islamic State terrorists attacked in Paris, killing 130 people and wounding hundreds. The attacks were carried out by Belgian nationals and planned in Belgium. Since those attacks, Belgian authorities have arrested over a dozen suspects.
Brussels, Belgium is an important city in international affairs and is a center for western political organizations. It is the home of the European Union (EU). The European Union is the economic union of European countries. Brussels is also the headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO is the military alliance of Western Europe, Turkey, the United States and Canada. After World War II, the United States of America led the effort to form NATO and it provides the majority of NATO’s budget and military might.
On November 8, 2016, Americans will vote for a U.S. President and Vice President. Because Americans currently have a president who cannot run for office as President Obama is in his second term, candidates are more active than normal, even though the election is more than one year away. One idea that is a large part of the election is how each candidate thinks the U.S. government will get involved, or leave alone, the economic activities of Americans. Because the U.S. President has great influence on American economic policy, it’s important to know the differing views on economic policy to choose which one works the best. This article is the first of many to discuss the history of economic policies and U.S history.
Up through the 1400s, Italian city-states had a big advantage over other European cities. Italians controlled the trade between Asia and Europe. Italian control of the Mediterranean trade and with Asian products ended when the Atlantic countries explored and colonized much of the world, beginning with Columbus discovering America in 1492. Power shifted from the south of Europe to the Atlantic countries. New ways of thinking and acting regarding money led what historians call The Commercial Revolution.
Perhaps most important to the Commercial Revolution was capitalism. Capitalism is an outlook and behavior taken by people who freely make, buy, and sell goods. In capitalism, people take risks in the hopes of improving their financial situation. Money that is earned is called profit. Individuals who earn a profit reinvest for more profit. In capitalism, hard work and risk taking is rewarded. Individuals tend to work harder for themselves because they get to enjoy the benefit of their labor. Bankers are ready to loan people capital in the hopes that they will be repaid with interest. The government’s role in capitalism is to be a sort of umpire, who makes sure that each citizen has a fair chance of competing. Government is not supposed to become an active participant in the affairs of the economy under capitalism.
Generally, material ambition became more accepted in European society. It had once been that all Christians were forbidden to earn interest from loaned money. Some elements in society were against the drive for wealth, as William Shakespeare expresses in his play “The Merchant of Venice,” set in 16th century Europe. Johannes Fugger of Augsburg was the head of a very successful banking family. The Fuggers funded the quest of Spanish King Charles I (1500-1558) to become Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
New kinds of businesses emerged. The idea of the corporation emerged: a legal entity that had the rights of an individual. A joint-stock company was one where business people could put their money together to raise huge amounts of capital. Each person bought stock in the company and owned a share of it. These large amounts of capital were used to fund large enterprises, take huge risks, and reap or lose great amounts of wealth. Insurance products came into existence that guaranteed business ventures.
Merchants used their money to build new businesses, like manufacturing things. Cloth manufacturing was one such business. In a company that worked as a “domestic system,” weavers were paid to make cloth in their homes. Capitalists paid weavers with wages and raw materials. They then sold the goods in the market for a profit. Over time, they brought the raw materials and workers in one location, called the factory system.
Global trade increased the European standard of living in the 1700s and 1800s. Europeans invested in tobacco and sugar plantations in America and in coffee plantations in Asia. Owners took the profits from these businesses and reinvested them. The standard of living of citizens who lived in countries that followed some practices of capitalism greatly increased, while the standard of living of people who lived in countries that did not adopt capitalism either stagnated or decreased. From the 1500s on, Europeans, though not representing the largest population of the world, enjoyed the fruits of capitalism and rapidly modernized.
Ever since the Syrian Civil War began in March of 2011, Syrians have been trying to escape the Syrian military dictator Basher al-Assad, the Islamic terrorist organization ISIS forces fighting Assad, and various other military groups trying to take over Syria. According to the United States Agency for International Development, four million have fled the country, 12 million need humanitarian assistance, and over 7 million people are displaced within Syria. It is believed over 220,000 Syrians have died in the war. Germany has invited Syrians to immigrate, and partly because of this, hundreds of thousands of Syrians are risking their lives, walking across dangerous areas of Asia, overcrowding small boats to cross the Mediterranean Sea, and storming countries on the path to Germany.
Baher al-Assad has ruled Syria as president since July 2000. His father, Hafez al-Assad, ruled Syria from 1970-2000. Assad is a brutal dictator and does not allow any dissent among his people. Torture and murder are some of the tools of Assad. He also controls a large stockpile of chemical weapons. In March of 2011, Syrian rebels rose up against him. Initially, the Obama administration supported the overthrow of Assad, although President Obama would not give or sell weapons to help the rebels. Issuing Assad a threat, President Obama warned Assad at a news conference in Stockholm on September 4, 2013,
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
The international community believed that this red line meant that if Assad were to use chemical weapons against the Syrian rebels, Obama would authorize use of United States forces to attack. Chemical weapons are dangerous because they kill everyone, not just soldiers. After it was proven that Assad did use chemical weapons, President Obama stated that he did not make a red line for Assad to cross, and he did not intend to use American weapons and forces against Assad. Since then, the Civil War has become worse, and Russian military has come to the aid of the dictator Assad.
There are various militaries fighting in Syria. One is the military force of Assad. Fighting against them is the Syrian rebels, who wish to oust Assad. Fighting against both of these is the Islamic terrorist organization ISIS. ISIS wants to create a country in the Middle East. After it became clear the U.S.A. was not going to get involved, Russian President Putin has sent military weapons and soldiers to support Assad. Putin has made Russia an authoritarian country, where journalists are not allowed to write or report anything against him.
1. What and who are Syrian refugees escaping from?
2. Where are many trying to emigrate?
3. What did everyone think President Obama meant when he talked about a red line?
4. Who is ISIS?
5. In your opinion, should the U.S.A. encourage Syrian refugees to come to America? Why or why not?
For Video Links to the Syrian Refugee Crisis, go HERE.
On Friday, August 28th, three Americans on vacation, an American living in France, a Frenchman, and a Briton stopped Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani from attacking 554 passengers as they travelled from Amsterdam to Paris. El-Khazzani was equipped with multiple weapons full of ammunition and appeared ready to commit mass murder. French President Francois Hollande awarded the three Americans – Airman First Class Spencer Stone, 23; Alek Scarlatos, 22, a specialist in the Oregon National Guard; and their friend Anthony Sadler, 23 - and the Briton with the Legion of Honor, the highest award given by the country of France. The heroes were praised throughout France and Europe for stopping an attack that was believed to be motivated by Islamic terrorism. “Your heroism must be an example for many and a source of inspiration,” Mr. Hollande added. “Faced with the evil of terrorism, there is a good, that of humanity. You are the incarnation of that.”
Without the quick thinking and acting of the American tourists, the Moroccan would most likely have killed and wounded scores of people. El-Khazzani emerged from the restroom on the train shirtless, with an AK-47 and other weapons. A Frenchman tackled the attacker, who shot his gun. Upon hearing the gunshot, Spencer Stone awoke his sleeping friends. The three Americans ran towards the gunman, took him to the ground, and with the help of the Briton, tied up the attacker. Stone then went to the injured man the attacker had shot in the neck, put his fingers into the bullet wounds, stopped the bleeding, and stayed there until the train arrived at the next stop and emergency professionals could take over treatment.
Speaking of the three Americans, U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley said, "When most of us would run away, Spencer, Alek and Anthony ran into the line of fire, saying 'Let's go.' Those words changed the fate of many."
American hero Anthony Sadler was asked if he had any advice to give someone in a similar situation.
"Do something," he said. "Hiding, or sitting back, is not going to accomplish anything. And the gunman would've been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up. So I just want that lesson to be learned going forward, in times of, like, terror like that, please do something. Don't just stand by and watch."
1. What happened on a train from Amsterdam to Paris?
2. Who was the attacker?
3. Why is it believed he wanted to harm people?
4. Who were the three Americans honored by French President Hollande?
5. Do you think it was just coincidence that it was three Americans who saved everybody on the train, or are Americans more able to perform acts of heroism than others?
John De Gree
John De Gree writes the current events with a look at the history of each topic. Articles are written for the young person, aged 10-18, and Mr. De Gree carefully writes so that all readers can understand the event. The perspective the current events are written in is Judeo-Christian.
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