HAPPY CHRISTMAS

 The Real Saint Nicholas

December 6 marks Saint Nicholas Day, it marks the beginning of the Christmas season by telling the story of Santa Claus's namesake. But before I do, I should remark that, historically speaking, there's not much we really know about Nicholas. Though he's one of the most popular saints in the Greek and Latin churches, his existence isn't attested by any historical document. All we can say is that he was probably the bishop of Myra (near modern Finike, Turkey) sometime in the 300s.

There are of course many legends about Nicholas, and since these have influenced people throughout history, and they likely illustrate something about the historical man, they are fair game for a publication, like ours, devoted to Christian history.

Supposedly, Nicholas was born to a wealthy family in Patara, Lycia. His parents died, and he inherited a considerable sum of money, but he kept none of it. In the most famous story about his life, he threw bags of gold through the windows of three girls about to be forced into lives of prostitution. At least that's the most common version of the story; there are others, including an excessively grim one where the three girls are beheaded by an innkeeper and pickled in a tub of brine until Nicholas resurrects them.

After a couple of miracles (he's sometimes called Nicholas the Wonder-Worker) performed while he was still a boy, Nicholas was chosen by the people of Myra to be their new bishop. But it wasn't long before Diocletian and Maximian began their persecutions of Christians, and the new bishop was imprisoned.

When Constantine became emperor, Nicholas was released with countless others and returned to his preaching only to find a new threat: Arianism. According to one biographer (writing five centuries after Nicholas's death), "Thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison." Other biographers claim Nicholas attacked the heresy of Arius (who denied the full divinity of Christ) in a much more personal way—he traveled to the Council of Nicea and slapped Arius in the face! As the story goes (and this should be taken as fantasy because there are pretty good records of the council, and Nicholas isn't mentioned), the other bishops at Nicea were shocked at such rude behavior and relieved him as bishop. But then Jesus and Mary appeared next to him, and they quickly recanted.

That's the questionable legend of Nicholas. But not the end of the story. Even by the reign of Justinian (d. 565), Nicholas was famous, and the emperor dedicated a church in Constantinople to him. By the 900s, a Greek wrote, "The West as well as the East acclaims and glorifies him. Wherever there are people, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. All Christians reverence his memory and call upon his protection." The West became even more interested when his "relics" were taken from Myra to Bari, Italy, on May 9, 1087. He's said to have been represented by medieval artists more frequently than any saint but Mary, and nearly 400 churches were dedicated in his honor in England alone during the late Middle Ages.

With such a popularity, his legends inevitably became intertwined with others. In Germanic countries, it sometimes became hard to tell where the legend of Nicholas began and that of Woden (or Odin) ended. Somewhere along the line, probably tied to the gold-giving story, people began giving presents in his name on his feast day. When the Reformation came along, his following disappeared in all the Protestant countries except Holland, where his legend continued as Sinterklass. Martin Luther, for example, replaced this bearer of gifts with the Christ Child, or, in German, Christkindl. Over the years, that became pronounced Kriss Kringle, and is now considered another name for Santa Claus.

B.N

 

Giant leap for spiders: ‘Nefertiti’ dies on Earth after 100 days on ISS

Nefertiti the jumping spider traveled into space and returned to Earth after 100 days in orbit. The first such arachnid to do so, she seemingly couldn’t handle the fame, dying after just four days on display at Washington, DC’s Smithsonian museum.

­Nefertiti was chosen for the once-in-a-lifetime trip to space after winning the chance through a YouTube competition. The contest asked 14- to 18-year-olds to send in their ideas for experiments to be performed on the International Space Station (ISS).

Amr Mohamed, the 18-year-old winner from Alexandria, Egypt, proposed that the Johnson Jumper (Phidippus johnsoni) spider would have difficulty catching fruit flies in space.

But after spending 100 days on the ISS, Nefertiti – named after an Egyptian queen – showed that it was capable of adapting to zero-gravity and successfully caught its prey.

She even developed a new technique to cope with the antigravity – sidling up to her prey rather than jumping on it.

But upon returning to earth, it did take her a few days to adapt to gravity. And after just four days at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington, DC, she died of natural causes.

"The unexpected loss of this special animal that inspired so many imaginations will be felt throughout the museum community. The body of Nefertiti will be added to the museum's collection of specimens where she will continue to contribute to our understanding of spiders,” Kelly Carnes of the Smithsonian told the LA Times.

Nefertiti’s traveling companion Cleopatra, a zebra spider, wasn’t as lucky, dying shortly after touchdown.

Jumping spiders live to be about a year old, and female spiders were chosen since their male counterparts usually no longer eat when fully grown.

Nefertiti was 10 months old at the time of her death, which led many to believe she was reaching her expiration date anyway.

R.S

Iran’s Gaza drama wins best film award at Rotterdam festival

“Rescue Path”, a Gaza drama produced by Iran’s Sahar Universal Network, has won the Golden Hawk for best feature film at the Arab Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherlands,according to Tehran Times.

Egyptian star Nadine Salama also won the best actress award in the movie during the closing ceremony of the festival for her portrayal of Maha.

Directed by Rama Qavidel, the film is about Maha, a kind teacher at a Gaza orphanage, who has lost his memory after an accident.

Wassim Wehbe is also among main members of the film’s all-Arab cast.

The Arab Film Festival Rotterdam is known as the venue in Europe for independent, critical, daring and innovative films.

M.W 

Nicole Kidman Suffers Miscarriage

The actress' Australian-based publicist has confirmed stories in the New York Daily News and supermarket tabloid the Star this week that Kidman was nearly three months pregnant when Tom Cruise filed for divorce last month. The Daily News and Star quote unnamed sources who claim the 33-year-old actress was pregnant at the time of the split and subsequently suffered a miscarriage.

"It is a private matter for Tom and Nicole to work out," Kidman's Aussie publicist, Wendy Day, is quoted in Sydney's Daily Telegraph. Day told the local Associated Press bureau, "I believe the story is out there and running. We can't deny the story." She declined further comment.

Earlier, Kidman's Hollywood publicist, Toby Fleischman, refused to confirm or deny the miscarriage reports. "PMK is submitting no comment," Fleischman said. "We have not been commenting on any of these matters, as we wish to respect Ms. Kidman's privacy."

Cruise's publicist, Pat Kingsley, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Cruise, 38, filed for divorce February 7 after the pair separated in December, just shy of their 10-year anniversary. The couple--who blamed the split on "divergent careers which constantly kept them apart"--have two adopted children, Connor, 6, and Isabella, 8.

The Star claims in its report (on newsstands Friday) that Kidman suffered the miscarriage about two weeks ago and was treated at a Los Angeles clinic.

Meanwhile, an unnamed "friend" tells Daily News gossip columnist George Rush, "She's totally heartbroken. She's still recovering."

Kidman has stayed under the media radar in recent months, ever since pulling out of the David Fincher-directed action thriller The Panic Room in January after reinjuring her knee. (She was replaced by Jodie Foster.) Kidman originally suffered a string of injuries, including a broken rib and wrenched knee, on the set of the period musical Moulin Rouge, which is set to open the Cannes Film Festival in May.

The Kidman-Cruise coupledom (and recent split) has long been fodder for the tabloids--though the couple has been successful in fighting back.

In 1998, Cruise and Kidman sought state and federal charges against the Globe tabloid, after it claimed to have a taped phone conversation of the couple fighting. At the time, Globe editor Tony Frost stood by the story and denied his publication broke the law.

Frost, who's currently editor of the Star, refused to comment Thursday on the veracity of its latest story about Cruise and Kidman.

H.SH

China uncovers ancient palace inside emperor's tomb

The remains of a monumental imperial palace have been unearthed at the mausoleum of China's fist emperor, inside his tomb. It's believed to be the largest complex ever found at Qin Shi Huang's resting place.

An associate researcher at the Shaanxi provincial institute of archaeology, Sun Weigang, told the Xinhua news agency that the courtyard-style palace was estimated to be 690 meters long and 250 meters wide, covering an area of 170,000 cubic meters.

According to the researcher, the palace could shed light on the architectural styles of the Qin Dynasty, highlighting Emperor Qin Shi Huang's wish to continue to live in splendor and luxury even during his afterlife.

The 56-square-km Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang is the world's largest underground mausoleum, famous for its terracotta warriors discovered in the funerary pits in 1974.

Earlier this year, archaeologists uncovered over a hundred new warriors, along with a dozen of pottery horses, weapons and tools.

B.N