Who is St. Nicholas?
Today, December 6 (December 19 on the Julian Calendar) is the actual date to celebrate the man known as Santa Claus – St. Nicholas. Learn more about the true story of Santa.
The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born during the third century in the village of Patara. At the time the area was Greek and is now on the southern coast of Turkey. His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Obeying Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships.
Under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. After his release, Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325. He died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This liquid substance, said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Nicholas. The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (December 19 on the Julian Calendar).
Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. These accounts help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.
Around The World
In many places St. Nicholas is the main gift giver. His feast day, St. Nicholas Day, is December 6, which falls early in the Advent season. Some places he arrives in the middle of November and moves about the countryside, visiting schools and homes to find out if children have been good. Other places he comes in the night and finds carrots and hay for his horse or donkey along with children’s wish lists. Small treats are left in shoes or stockings so the children will know he has come.
Where St. Nicholas is prominent, his day, not Christmas, is the primary gift giving day. Parties may be held on the eve, December 5th, and shoes or stockings left for St. Nicholas to fill during the night. Children will find treats of small gifts, fruit or nuts, and special Nicholas candies and cookies. St. Nicholas gifts are meant to be shared, not hoarded for oneself.
American Santa Claus became a symbol of generosity following World War II as American troops, dressed as Santa, gave food and toys to children in war-torn Europe. This happened first in Britain, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and eventually in Germany and Japan. For many it was the first time they were exposed to American Santa Claus, thus making him far both more visible than he had been before the war, and associating him with good things in children’s minds. Santa’s presence with US servicemen has continued in all the wars of the 20th century and into the 21st. This prominence has contributed to the demise of traditional gift-givers in many places, including even his own precursor, St. Nicholas. As Gerry Bowler states, “A French sociologist has said that Santa Claus came to Europe in the suitcase of the Marshall Plan.”
Why Celebrate St. Nicholas Day?
St. Nicholas, a man of faith who lived his life in devotion to Christ. To emulate him you need:
- To focus on giving more than receiving: St. Nicholas cared for the needy
- To emphasize small treats and family fun: St. Nicholas loved children
- To provide a bit of special festivity early in the waiting weeks of Advent: St. Nicholas points to Jesus, the heart of Christmas
- To offer a spiritual dimension to gift giving
- To tell the story of a Christian saint, whose model life inspires compassion and charity
- To honor St. Nicholas honors the Christ Child who selflessly gave the greatest gift of all—himself
If you want to celebrate the wonderful example of St. Nicholas, you can do it all month long. Enjoy Christmas, an annual holiday focused completely on giving!
Reposted from the St. Nicholas Center