How Santa Claus came to be – Memorial of St Nicholas
Meet the real St Nick. Yes, there really is one and while we know a little about his life there is much that has been created from it today. Saint Nicholas was the Catholic Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. According to Legenda Aurea (The Golden Legend), also called Lives of the Saints, Volume 11, Nicholas was born sometime in the late third century. Nicholas’ parents died when he was young, leaving him a large sum of money. With his inheritance, Nicholas practiced charity, helping those in need.
His uncle, the Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, ordained him priest, and appointed him abbot of a monastery; and on the death of the archbishop he was elected to the vacant see. Throughout his life he retained the bright and guileless manners of his early years, and showed himself the special protector of the innocent and the wronged.
About the time of the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, he was imprisoned for preaching Christianity but was released during the reign of Emperor Constantine. He later attended the Council of Nicea in 325. “Nicholas of Myra of Lycia” appears on one of the earliest and most reliable lists of the Bishops at Nicea.
After Nicholas’ death on December 6 in or around 345, his body was buried in the cathedral at Myra. It remained there until 1087, when seamen of Bari, an Italian coastal town, seized the relics of the saint and transferred them to their own city. Veneration for Nicholas had already spread throughout Europe as well as Asia, but this occurrence led to a renewal of devotion in the West. Countless miracles were attributed to the saint’s intercession. His relics are still preserved in the church of San Nicola in Bari; an oily substance, known as Manna di S. Nicola, which is highly valued for its medicinal powers, is said to flow from them.
Popular legends have involved Saint Nicholas in a number of charming stories, one of which relates Nicholas’ charity toward the poor. Nicholas once heard that a man of Patara who had fallen into poverty and lost his fortune. He now intended to abandon his three daughters to a life of sin because he could not pay their dowry. Legends state that Nicholas saved three sisters from lives of shame by secretly flinging into the window a bag of gold and then hurried off. Other legends relate that Nicholas secretly put coins in shoes that were left out for him. I’m sure you can start to see the faint resemblance to the mythological Santa Claus! Still other stories that surround St Nicholas, illustrate that he practiced both the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. He was generous, strove to help the poor and disadvantaged, and worked tirelessly to defend the faith.
The custom of giving gifts on Saint Nicholas’ feast day probably originated in Europe among Protestants. The Reformation had led many Protestants to all but abandon the remembrance of the saints. But St Nicholas’ memory was kept alive by children especially in Holland . They remembered him as Sinterklaas.
The story of Saint Nicholas came to America in distorted fashion. The Dutch Protestants carried a popularized version of the saint’s life to New Amsterdam or as we know it today, New York, portraying Nicholas as nothing more than a Nordic magician and wonder-worker. Once arrived, they told stories about “Sint Nicolaas” (Dutch version of St. Nicholas), which later transformed into “Sinter Klaas,” St. Nicholas is said to arrive on horseback on his feast day, dressed in a bishop’s red robe and mitre and accompanied by Black Peter, variously described as a freed slave or a Moor, to help him distribute sweets and presents to good children or lumps of coal or potatoes to bad ones.
The American mispronunciation of Santa Claus, eventually took on a life of its own. This jolly Saint Nick also delivered gifts through the chimney, but on Christmas rather than the saint’s day. He wore a red suit rather than liturgical vestments, though he still vaguely resembled the old depictions of Nicholas, which showed him with bald head and full beard.
St. Nicholas is usually represented by the side of a vessel, wherein a certain man had concealed the bodies of his three children whom he had killed, but who were restored to life by the Saint. Along with St Andrew he is the patron saint of Russia.
Please also find TWO more links based on reflections from the first reading of today. Simply click on the links below.