ESCANABA - Is it magic in the air or is it just snowflakes in the north wind?
Do you hear that? Is it the heavenly sound of tiny jingle bells or is it icicles bobbing on the balsam boughs?
Are strangers leaving footprints in the snow in your neighborhood? Jack Frost, the great artist, is busy painting pinecones and etching window panes.
The good ghost, dressed in furs and wearing the pointed hat of a bishop, sneaks in the shadows. This spirit figure has roamed on cold, early December nights for hundreds of years.
Are the children in bed? Are the children obeying their parents? The saintly fellow's eyes twinkle in the moonlight. His whiskers glisten with frost.
Artists have tried to capture this saint's image on canvas since the 19th Century. Robert Walter Weir painted this fireplace visitor in 1838.
A poem by Clement C. Moore described this "right jolly old elf" in 1823.
The real person behind the many paintings, pictures, poems and stories is a man who lived in Myra - now Turkey - in the 4th Century. Nicholas was a priest and then a bishop who was very attuned to the needs of the poor and of the children. He would drop gold coins down the chimney of the homes of poor families. Leaving a treat in the shoes drying by the fireplace was also credited to him. The Feast of St. Nicholas is celebrated Dec. 6.
He is the patron saint of poor maidens, sailors, travelers and children.
From a kind and giving bishop to a roly-poly man in red suit, the spirit of St. Nicholas lives on. He is the patron saint of Russia and one of the most popular saints in the Greek Orthodox Church.
His image has changed much over the years. From trousers to a royal red robe, from a bishop's cap (miter) and staff to jingle bells and big boots, St. Nick - or Santa Claus - has been handed down from generation to generation.
My mom was of Russian decent, so Dec. 6 was a special day at our house. A little treat for the kids - a popcorn ball and some chocolate - often showed up at the door or on the steps. As adults, a sip of wine on the eve of St. Nicholas Bay was in order.
The Irish folks like to wear green on St. Patrick's Day. Russians and Slovenians like to wear red on St. Nick's Day.
St. Nicholas - or Santa Claus - can be found on Christmas ornaments, yard decorations, placemats, cups, clothes and even salt and pepper shakers. These trinkets of Christmas are nice, but the real spirit of Christmas is found in the giving and the sharing of this time of year.
He is out there on windy, cold nights. Centuries old, the spirit of Christmas - St. Nicholas - is still giving. Let's start our Advent season following in his footsteps in the snow.
Karen (Rose) Wils is a lifelong resident of Escanaba. Her folksy columns are published each Friday in Lifestyles.