Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Who is Saint Nicholas?
a drawing of Saint Nicholas
St. Nicholas was a "Christian" bishop of Myra who was supposedly known for giving gifts and helping the poor. He was born in around 280 A.D. in Patara, a land that is part of present-day turkey. He lost both his parents as a young man and supposedly used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. He was known as a devout Christian who served as bishop of Myra, which is now a city called Demre. There are many legends revolving around St. Nicholas. One of the legends is that he helped three poor girls by giving them a dowry or else they would've been sent into servitude by their father because their father didn't have enough money for a dowry. It was told that St. Nicholas came on three occasions at night and placed a bag of money. The father used the money for one of them to get married. On the third visit, the father thanked the bishop for his kindness. It was also told that St. Nicholas reportedly saved three men who were falsely imprisoned and sentenced to death.
St. Nicholas Day is celebrated on December 6th of each year. It's said that St. Nicholas died on December 6, 343. He was known as the protector of children and sailors and was involved in gift-giving. He was considered a popular saint in Europe until the time of the Protestant Reformation. As a result of the Reformation, honoring saints was de-emphasized even though Saint Nicholas was a popular figure. The Dutch continued to celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas, which was December 6th. It was a common practice for the children to place their shoes out the night before and in the morning they would find gifts for them, according to legend.
In centuries gone by, the Dutch would bring Sinter Klaas, St. Nicholas's nickname, to America in the 1770's. The mystical character called Santa Claus is a modern caricature of St. Nicholas, even though there's been transformations taking place to make him the modern figure he is. It was cartoonist Thomas Nast and a dentist, Clement Clark Moore, that brought about the modern-day Santa Claus in America. In 1820, Moore wrote a poem entitled, "An Account of a Visit From St. Nicholas", which is popularly known as "Twas the Night Before Christmas" which brought about the modern Santa Claus tradition in America. Prior to the 1820's, Christmas was hardly celebrated in America. The Puritans banned Christmas from New England in the seventeenth century. Christmas was more about drunkenness, gluttony, and rioting than it was about celebrating the birth of Jesus in early America.
I am by no means trying to promote Santa Claus. I'm only presenting what history says about the mythical character of Santa Claus. St. Nicholas was a real man in past history. How true the accounts are about St. Nicholas is debatable. There are so many legends about St. Nicholas. The truth is that God and God alone is the giver of good gifts--not Santa Claus.
Click on the above links to read more about St. Nicholas.