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St. Nicholas

Saint Nicholas, 7th–8th Century
Icon detail, Monastery of St. Catharine, Mount Sinai


Many years ago, I submitted the following short essay on St. Nicholas to the local newspaper. It was never printed. After my little essay, I’ve included a documentary on St. Nicholas that shows his actual bones on camera and what he might have looked based on his bone features.


St. Nick to Santa Claus


One year during Christmas when I was a little boy, an argument arose over the existence of Santa Claus. Two older boys had said to me that Santa doesn’t exist. I remember feeling very sad, because to me the whole story did seem a little far-fetched and I deeply wanted to believe. Now that I’m older, I know the truth. Those two boys were dead wrong.

Of course, Santa doesn’t fly around in a sleigh with 8 or 9 tiny reindeer. He’s also not a big jolly man who slides down chimneys stuffing stockings and leaving presents under trees. No, Santa Claus is much greater and even more powerful than that.

Many people have forgotten who this man is. I say is, because he is still very much alive.  First, we must go way back into history.

1431 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, 1263 years before the first Baptist church was erected, 1147 years before Columbus discovered America for Europe, 455 years before Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor, 265 years before Mohammed founded Islam, in the year 345 AD, one of the holiest and most famous Catholics that ever lived had completed his life on earth.

St. Nicholas, as he is better known, was a Catholic Bishop in the city of Myra, in present day Turkey. He is considered the greatest saint in the East after the Apostles and the many churches named in his honor testify to his holiness and popularity with the faithful. Many traditions surround this great man.

The greatest yet forgotten tradition of this patron saint of children is the one concerning the Council of Nicea in 325 AD where he slapped another Bishop named Arius who denied the Divinity of Jesus. Nicholas was deprived of his Episcopacy and thrown into prison. However, Jesus and His Mother, Mary appeared to him, freeing him and restoring his Bishopric. His love for the truth caused him much suffering, and his devotion to the Catholic Church and his teaching kept his people from falling away. Myra was the one city in the Catholic world, the Arian heresy never touched.

Other traditions show Nicholas as a very generous man giving gold to girls without dowries, keeping them out of prostitution. He is also a patron saint of sailors. In the East, there are many stories of sailors being rescued who invoked his help.

Being a very ascetic man, he ate only on Wednesdays and Fridays. He is even known to have raised children who died back to life.

The Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6. Children receive treats and gifts on this holy day. After the Protestant Revolt of the 16th century, the Dutch Protestants continued the celebration calling it the feast of Sinter Klaas.  Eventually, the English Protestants adopted the celebration translating his name to Santa Clause. However, celebrating a Catholic Saint was not something the English Protestants wanted to do.

They solved the problem by transferring the gift giving celebration and hiding it in Christmas. The Santa Claus of Christmas evolved from a conglomeration of St. Nicholas, Father Christmas, Christmas Man, and the German god Thor by the European Protestants over the years. He’s not to be confused with the English Kris Kringle, a whole other story.

During the 1800’s, poems and cartoons slowly depicted a familiar Santa. In the early 1900’s, the Coke Cola Co. hired an artist who first captivated Santa as we now know him.

Good old St. Nick may not be remembered as he ought, but he is very much alive in Christ of whom he was a great witness and imitator. If he were here today, he would be the first person who would be reminding us to remember the real reason for the season. Since the true story is greater than the fairy tale, you can bet I will tell my children the truth about good Ole St. Nick.

So the next time you see a Santa somewhere, you’ll know why he is a true sign of Christmas. St. Nicholas is a man of Jesus Christ.



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