Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Real Saint Nicholas

Saint Nicolas, mosaic, Grgeteg monastery
 photo courtesy of 
The legend of Santa Claus and his reindeer bringing toys to the children of the world has become a symbol of Christmas for many Americans. In England, children look forward to a visit from Father Christmas, a fellow who pops down the chimney to leave presents and sample the mincemeat pies and milk or brandy left for him. The French leave out shoes filled with carrots and treats for Pere Noel's donkey, and to receive his gifts of candy, money, or small toys. Parallel Christmas traditions take place throughout Europe, all of them based on the life of one man.

Nicholas of Patara was a bishop who later lived in the fourth-century village of Myra in a part of Greece that is now modern-day Turkey. Nicholas's parents died young in an epidemic, leaving him their considerable wealth. Nicholas decided to follow the example of humility set by his Lord, Jesus Christ. He gave his inheritance to help the poor, the sick, and to alleviate suffering. His gifts often arrived in secret. Many stories remain of his legendary kindness. One of the most famous describes how on three occasions, Nicholas dropped bags of gold through an open window to help provide dowries for the three daughters of a poor man. They are said to have fallen into stockings or shoes drying by the fireside. This started the tradition of leaving stockings or shoes by the fireplace at Christmas. The girl's father caught Nicholas throwing the last bag of gold through the window. Afterwards, the man told everyone what Nicholas had done. 

Diocletian, a Roman Emperor who persecuted Christians, exiled and imprisoned Bishop Nicholas because of his faith. He was later released and died in AD 343 and was buried in Myra. December 6th, the anniversary of his death, is celebrated with great anticipation as Saint Nicholas Day. In many countries, this is when children leave out stockings or shoes to be filled with treats and gifts.

In the 1950's the bones of Saint Nicholas were removed while his crypt was repaired. The Vatican requested that the skull and bones be studied. Because of advances in forensic anthropology, a computerized likeness of Saint Nicholas's face has been generated. It's interesting to compare the computerized image with historical renditions of Saint Nicholas.

This Christmas as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Christ, we can also rejoice in the life of one of his devoted servants. What would it be like to live a life so loving you leave a legacy of kindness?

References and Further Reading:

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  1. You do not know how much trouble I got from my girls when I shared this story of the real St. Nicholas! They still tease me about it even now that they're grown! LOL!

  2. Patty, did you tell them that December 5th is Saint Nicholas Eve in many European countries, and that children look forward to gifts from Saint Nicholas on his feast day instead of December 25th? My child will receive two stockings this year! :o)

  3. Janalyn, I really found this very interesting. Thanks for this information. GOD bless you and have a Merry Christmas.
    MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com