Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Real Saint Nicholas

Santa Claus, or at least the character that we call by the name Santa Claus was a REAL person, born in the year 270. Nicholas was born to wealthy parents in a tiny village called Patara in a place called Lycia, which was a Greek province in Asia Minor, that we today call Turkey.

Even though Nicholas family was extremely wealthy, he was raised a devout Christian. His parents died during an epidemic when he was a boy, he turned to his Bible and read what Jesus said to a wealthy man: "Sell all thou hath and give it to the poor and follow me.” So he used all his money to help the sick and poor.

Around the year 300, in the city of Myra, the Bishop of the church passed away. The church authorities met to find a replacement. The leader of the group had a dream where he said he was visited by an angel. He asked the angel who should be the new Bishop. The angel told them to wait by the door of the church and pick the first person named Nicholas to come in the door. Nicholas was named the youngest bishop of the church and served until the year 341 A.D.

As Bishop, Nicholas was fearless defending Christianity. He was imprisoned by Roman emperor Diocletian and freed by Constantine, who was not a Christian. When the citizens of Myra came to Nicholas to complain of a terrible tax burden, he went to the Emperor for relief. The Emperor wrote a decree lowering the tax due to Bishop Nicholas.

Nicholas also attended the Council of Nicaea, which developed the Nicene Creed. He also was adamant that they should accept the Holy Trinity as part of the Christian doctrine. It is also reputed that Nicholas was responsible for destroying many pagan temples including the temple of Artemis. He died Dec. 6th, 343 A.D. His first burial was in Myra but then the remains were moved to Bari, in Italy.

Nicholas was loved by the people of Myra for his kindness especially to children. And this is where the myths start.

One such story has survived for centuries and is celebrated in a variety of cultures. In the town where he was Bishop, Nicholas supposedly gave an anonymous gift to a man with three daughters. The family was destitute of means, couldn’t provide dowerys for the daughters to marry, and therefore would have to sell them into prostitution.

Nicholas heard about this and at night soon after the eldest daughter came to marrying age, he tossed a small bag of gold through an open window (and some say he tossed it down the chimney), sparing her a life of misery. The secret deed was repeated for each of the other two daughters. This established Nicholas as a gift-giver, and spurred the tradition of children hanging stockings by the fireplace to receive a gift from him.

Nicholas was known for many such deeds, and numerous recorded miracles were attributed to the Bishop of Myra because of his great faith. (Google them please. There are too many to list here!)

So famous did Nicholas become that no other name in the church except for Jesus and the Virgin Mary was so widely known and respected. More than 2000 churches were named for Saint Nicholas. His legend grew over time. He was also named the patron saint of Greece and even in Russia he is considered a miracle worker.

So how did he get to be the jolly old fat guy in the red suit that we so aptly call Santa Claus? European immigrants brought the tradition of gift-giving inspired by this Saint, to the New World. Other immigrants were told that his name was St. Nicholas. German pronunciation of that is Sankt Niklaus which phonetically evolved into Santa Claus.

And the rest is history…Thomas Nast created the red suit around the time of the Civil War. Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth sorta standardized how he looked. Then Coca Cola illustrator Haddon Sundblom made him an advertising icon and the secular symbol was born.

Even Kris Kringle was perverted from its Christian roots to become secular! The name is derived from Das Christkind...the Christ Child in Austria. People in Europe continue to revere St. Nicholas as a Christian bishop and saint, but we in North America have allowed this pious man of God to become the secular symbol of extravagant and decadent gift-giving. Surely Nicholas is turning over in his grave every time he sees the caricature of himself that has been used to usurp the baby Jesus and the Reason for the Season.

by Bonnie S. Calhoun


Post a Comment