Saint Nicholas: The Real Santa Claus
On December 6, the Church celebrates the feast of Saint Nicholas, the real Santa Claus. He was a priest and bishop acclaimed for his charity and his love of children and the poor.
Saint Nicholas was born during the fourth century in Patra, a village 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.
Later he was ordained a priest and was made Bishop of Myra. Saint Nicholas is distinguished for his great faith. His faith was so great, that with his prayer, he calmed a stormy sea while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. For this reason, sailors pay homage to him as their protector.
He is predominantly known for his charity and his love for children. He used his great wealth to assist all who were in need: poor families, widows, and especially orphans and poor children. As bishop, he established both a poorhouse and a hospital.
The best-known story about Saint Nicholas concerns his charity toward a poor man who was unable to provide dowries for his three daughters, who desired to be married. Rather than see them forced into prostitution, Nicholas secretly tossed a bag of gold through the poor man’s window on three separate occasions, thus enabling each of the daughters to be married. Over the centuries, this particular legend evolved into the custom of gift-giving on the saint’s feast.
He was the personification of Christian love and affection. As such, he is honored by the entire Christian world, both the Eastern and the Western. In the West especially, he is considered the great patron saint of children and the cheerful giver of gifts under the name Santa Claus.
He died December 6, 343 AD in Myra. He was buried in the Basilica of St. Nicholas in Italy, where a unique relic, called manna, formed in his grave. This oily liquid substance, which is said to have healing powers, fostered the growth of devotion to Saint Nicholas.
Saint Nicholas is the patron of: bakers, brewers, brides, children, fishermen, grooms, judges, merchants, murderers, newlyweds, parish clerks, pharmacists, pilgrims, poor people, prisoners, sailors, shoe shiners, students, thieves, and travelers. The following places honor him as patron: Greece, Russia, Naples, Sicily, Lorraine, the Diocese of Liège; many cities in Italy, Germany, Austria, and Belgium; Campen in the Netherlands; Corfu in Greece; Freiburg in Switzerland; and Moscow in Russia.
In many places St. Nicholas is the main gift-giver. His feast day, Saint 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. To learn more about St. Nicholas Day traditions around the world, click HERE.