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.

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