Questions of Faith
The first image that probably pops into your head when you think of Santa Claus is a jolly, old, bearded man who delivers presents to children once a year. However, the origins of this story date back to a real life person in the 4th Century.
St Nicholas of Myra was a bishop in Turkey and is famous for his generosity and kindness. We know very little about his life as most biographical accounts about him were written centuries after his death. This material is also embellished with legendary and fantastical stories, so it’s hard to separate the fact from the fiction.
It’s reported that he was the son of a wealthy family and after his parents’ death, he used his inheritance to help others.
He’s celebrated for his orthodoxy and is believed to have been present at the Council of Nicaea in 325AD where he excoriated Arius for his heretical ideas. Likewise, his commitment to the Faith also shines through when sources record that he faced imprisonment and torture during a time of Christian persecution around 300AD.
One of the most famous stories associated with the saint is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into prostitution. They could not provide the necessary dowries for their marriage, so their father would have to sell them.
Hearing about their plight, St Nicholas went to their home and gave the three daughters a bag of gold each and so rescued them from a dire fate.
About 200 years after his death, the St Nicholas Church was built under the tutelage of Theodosius II over the site where he had served as bishop. His remains were placed there, but were later stolen and placed in the Basilica di San Nicola in Italy, with other fragments apparently residing in San Nicolò al Lido in Venice.
His feast day is celebrated on December 6 and he is the patron saint for Russia and Greece, as well as sailors, merchants and children.
The Dutch brought the legend of St Nicholas – otherwise known as Sinterklass – to America in the 1700s where he went through many transformations”
While his popularity began to wane in the 1500’s due to the impact of the Reformation and its position on venerating saints, the Dutch continued to celebrate his feast day on December 6. It was a common tradition for children to put their shoes out the night before and in the morning they would discover the gifts he had left for them. The Dutch brought the legend of St Nicholas – otherwise known as Sinterklaas – to America in the 1700s where he went through many transformations.
The image of Santa Claus as a magical man who delivers toys to children became concretised in the early 18th Century through the poem ‘An Account of a Visit from Saint Nicholas’ by Clement Moore. Later cartoonist Thomas Nast drew him wearing a red suit with a white fur lining.
His annual visitation to deliver gifts was moved to December 25 to converge with Christmas and to this day children all over the world are thankful for his generous work.