Wednesday 13 December 2017 — Main Street, Falmouth — St. Lucy Day

An eclectic mix of people recently gathered on the front lawn of the church. It was the middle of the afternoon. What, pray tell, were all these people doing out there on the lawn? And why were they all looking down at their mobile phones? 

I was afraid to ask, but I was soon advised not to worry about this strange phenomenon. They were simply looking for Ho-Ho. Really? Ho-Ho? You mean Santa Claus? They’re looking for Santa in the church shrubbery? The situation was getting even stranger.

As it turns out, I had misheard. They weren’t looking for “Ho-Ho” after all. They were looking for Ho-Oh. Now, you know me, dear readers, I keep my thumb on the pulse of the popular culture. Even so, I wouldn’t know a Ho-Oh if one bit me. 

After researching ancient manuscripts (meaning anything dated 2016 or earlier), I discovered that Ho-Oh was a Pokémon. He/she is a character in Pokémon Go, the augmented reality game based on the Global Positioning System. You need first to download the application to your mobile device. Then the virtual characters will appear on the screen with a background featuring your physical location. You gain points by locating, fighting, capturing, and training these virtual creatures. 

Much to the delight of Falmouth’s Pokémon Go aficionados, Ho-Oh had alighted in front of St. Patrick Church. Ho-Oh, for those of you who may live a sheltered life, is a colorful cross between a peacock and a phoenix.

The appearance of Ho-Oh on the church lawn came as no surprise to me, dear readers. Other Pokémon, including Zapdos and Exeggutor, have also appeared on our lawn. Zapdos is a legendary bird that thrives on being struck by lightning. Exeggutor looks like a walking palm tree with smiley faces on each coconut. 

We are living in a strange, strange world, dear readers.

Nevertheless, I do believe that if you have Pokémon in your front yard, it’s a sure sign that yours is a very groovy church. At least it gets crowds of young people to rush over to the church, even if they don’t actually go inside. 

Not to be outdone by these Pokémon, the Great Ho-Ho-Ho himself passed in front of the church. Santa came to town in the annual Christmas parade. He was, of course, the American version of Santa Claus — a jovial, portly character sporting a white beard and dressed all in red. 

Did you know that there are different versions of Santa? They’re all loosely based on the Bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas. Some portrayals are much looser than others.

The American Santa Claus version is based on descriptions found in an 1823 poem by the Rev. Clement Moore (“A Visit from St. Nick”), mixed with sketches from the 1880s by the cartoonist Thomas Nast, and refined in Coca-Cola advertisements of the 1930s. Stir it all together and you get the American Santa Claus. 

Here are some other versions:

The British Father Christmas is a merry old soul, but his physical appearance may vary. He wears a crown of Christmas greenery and carries a bowl of wassail (mulled wine). Sometimes he dons scarlet robes, but other times he prefers green. During the reign of King Henry VIII, when St. Nicholas Day (December 6) was abolished, good St. Nicholas simply packed up, slipped past the king’s guard, and moved to December 25. There he entered the witness protection program and assumed the alias “Father Christmas” — or something like that.

So, on Christmas Day, does old St. Nicholas, the Greek bishop, bring gifts to the children of Greece? Well, actually, St. Basil’s Day (December 31) is the primary celebration in Greece. Somehow singing “Here comes St. Basil, here comes St. Basil, laughing all the way” lacks a certain je ne sais quoi

In Poland, St. Nicholas comes bearing gifts on his feast day, but on Christmas Eve another figure appears. He may look suspiciously like your parish priest. This is due to the simple fact that he is. Dressed in disguise, he goes by the code name “Star Man.” Star Man tests children on their catechism and awards prizes for correct answers. Fortunately, Star Man never really caught on in the United States. I already have more than enough to do on Christmas Eve.

Santa is literally something else when he visits Finland. He travels from the northernmost district, Lapland, in a sleigh drawn by reindeer and accompanied by a team of elves. Other than the fact that he is clean-shaven (in the Mongolian fashion), he reminds me of someone else, but I just can’t put my finger on it. 

With all these Santa characters running around, you can understand why in some countries the Christ Child cuts out the middleman and delivers the gifts Himself. Christkindle, by the way, was the preferred gift-giver of Martin Luther

So, perhaps it’s not so strange after all to have Ho-Oh, Zapdos, and Exeggutor on your lawn. We have seen far stranger things, if you know what I mean. 

Ho-Ho-Ho! Merry Christmas!

Anchor columnist Father Tim Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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