Who Was St. Nicholas?
Who is the St. Nicholas who become our Santa Claus?
(Above—an 1898 painting called St. Nicholas of Myra Saves Three Innocents From Death. Painted by a Russian named Ilya Repin.)
St. Nicholas was a fourth-century Bishop of Myra. Myra was then in Greece. It is now in Turkey.
Not much is known of the life of St. Nicholas. He is said to have been generous to children and to the poor. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children. Here is a link to a list of Saints.
St. Nicholas is said to have been born into a prosperous home. His parents died when he was a young man and he was left an inheritance. Nicholas used this inheritance to help a poor man support three daughters who otherwise would have been sold into prostitution to support the family home.
It was this gift giving that is the connection between the St. Nicholas of old and the Santa of the modern day. In the spirit of the gifts for the three children, people in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands began to give each other gifts at Christmas. Santa Claus is, after a few mutations, St. Nicholas.
It is said Nicholas brought back to life two or three boys who had been cut-up and tossed in a brine-tub by an innkeeper. The innkeeper was going to sell the boys as pickled pork.
It is claimed that God his or herself indicated to the people of Myra that Nicholas should be selected as Bishop.
Nicholas was renowned as a champion of the falsely accused. He saved the lives of three men who were going to be put to death based on a sentence that had been made on this basis of a bribe. That account is the basis of the picture above.
Many falsely accused people are put to death and placed in jail in the United States in the current day. Please click here to read about The Innocence Project.
Nicholas is the patron saint of prisoners and prostitutes. All people merit concern. Here is a list of the many groups that can claim Nicholas as patron saint.
St. Nicholas is said to have stopped a raging storm in Greece and in so doing saved the lives of many mariners. In Greece, he is the patron saint of sailors.
Santa is about more than gift giving. I don’t think St. Nicholas would have lined up at Best Buy at 5 AM the morning after Thanksgiving to get a bargain on a laptop.
One source for this post was The Oxford Companion To The Year—An Exploration Of Calender Customs And Time-Reckoning. It’s a great book.
(Below–A statue of. St. Nick in Myra, Turkey. Photo by Lindi44.)