Monday, October 25, 2021

Papa Christmas

Photo by Frank Steiger

Santa Claus certainly arrives every Holiday Season. His beginning as old St. Nick, Kris Kringle, and Santa is largely from one of the greatest American poems ever written.

“The Night Before Christmas” was published anonymously in 1823, but because the birth of our modern Santa Claus made such a wildly popular idea, Clement Clarke Moore claimed authorship in 1844.

Papa Christmas comes in many ways and many forms. The good girls and boys of all ages cherish his arrival on Marco, Isles of Capri and Goodland, but when our blessed archipelago of islands hears the silver bells that herald in the holiday season, our version of Santa Claus just might be the best ever.  

In Jolly Old England, Santa is Father Christmas and arrives on Christmas Eve to fill stockings and pillowcases hung by the fire with every delight that makes the children of Britain Great. On Marco, our Papa Christmas does not just fill pillowcases and socks—his island style of holiday tradition opens many gifts in many venues.

In Mexico, Santa is Nicolas de Bari: the old man in the red coat, with the red of the coat symbolizing the Christmas poinsettia native to Mexico. The traditional arrival of gifts, however, is on January 6, known as El Diá de Los Tres Reyes Magos or The Day of the Three Magi Kings.  The Christmas-wise Papa of Marco, however, does not go beyond the boundaries of December, but his planning starts much earlier in a workshop where the Christmas magic really does happen.

In Germany and Austria, Saint Nicholas Day is typically celebrated on December 6. According to legend, Saint Nicolas was born in a Christian home in a coastal community in Southwestern Turkey. Nicholas was a faithful Christian who always gave more than he received and always followed the teachings of Christ. He was so charitable he gave his generous inheritance to the poor and became a bishop in the church at a very young age.

Over the years, St. Nick developed a sidekick and helper with the almost impossible name of the Knecht Ruprecht. In all the regions of Germany, St. Nick arrives with presents for the good girls and boys, but the children who have behaved badly are terrified because his sidekick marches into the homes dressed entirely in black. He carries a bag of coal for the stockings of the misbehaved and a birch switch to beat the surly and unruly of Deutschland.

Throughout Germany, the naughty kids of kindergarten are terrified by the arrival of the man in black, but the good kids are like the children of all ages on Marco, Capri and Goodland. They await the magic of Christmas with thankful hearts and eager imagination. The kids of every age in our coastal community know there is an island-style celebration coming that is carefully crafted by our version of Saint Nicholas.

Over the years, and the many Christmas seasons of our community, the holiday magic has passed from hand to hand. The Lady Christmas of Marco will forever be Marion Blomeier. She began extravagantly decorating her domain at the Olde Marco Inn when Christmas celebrations on our islands were largely limited to whatever happened at home. After Thanksgiving, Marion set the holiday season aglow when scores of teddy bears came out at the Inn beside beautiful strands of garland, hanging mistletoe and Christmas trees of all sizes decorated in the old-style fashion of her native Germany.

Dawn Norgen took the torch next and began building Christmas island-style in her Island Title workshop in 1987. The Christmas elves of the Marco Chamber of Commerce helped Dawn’s vision come into fruition and continued to foster the holiday festivities when Dave Rice took the reins of the reindeer and began steering the sleigh into a new century. Marion, Dawn and Dave certainly began building something wonderful and unique, but now there is a right jolly elf that is undoubtedly wearing the mantle and earning the title of Papa Christmas in this island community.

Our Papa Christmas is most definitely Steve ’the Stef‘ Stefanides.

It might be months before Christmas, but all over the island, Stef is certainly not as quiet as a mouse. He is planning, working in the island-style workshop, and corralling volunteers to inspire and create the hope that St. Nick would soon be here.

The children of all ages might be asleep in their beds with visions of sugar cookies and the roast beast, but Stef is probably out on the lawn creating a clatter of ornaments and Christmas lights. Stef is a driver, very lively and quick as he rustles up and wrangles his elves to have a tropical island-style Christmas that keeps all of us from wishing we had the vision of the full moon on newly fallen snow and a crackling fireplace.

He might not always be dressed all in fur from his head to toe, and his clothes might not be tarnished with soot, but he might be caught with a bag full of toys for children who really need them. His nose might not be as red as a cherry, but his eyes definitely twinkle when he exclaims to all, “Merry Christmas and to all a good night!”

Thanks, Stef, from all the good girls and boys on Marco, Capri and Goodland, and thanks once again to Clement Clarke Moore for inspiring us to have great elves like our very own Papa Christmas. 


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