St. Nick, the Real One

I’m so fascinated by the various iterations of Christian gift-giving days, which stretch from about December 6, St. Nicholas Day in parts of Europe (it’s flexible) to January 6, Three Kings Day. Those dates, BTW, are the very earliest AND the very latest I’ll play what’s come to be known as Christmas music. Also intrigued by the guy who, at least partially, inspired Santa Claus.

From the Wikipedia:

“Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Santa Claus. He was a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop of Myra in Lycia, now in the Antalya Province of Turkey. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious man with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. A great gift, indeed.

He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. In Europe (more precisely the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Germany) he is still portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes. In 1087, the Italian city of Bari, wanting to enter the profitable pilgrimage industry of the times, mounted an expedition to locate the tomb of the Christian Saint and procure the remains. The reliquary of St. Nicholas was desecrated by Italian sailors and the spoils, including his relics, taken to Bari, where they are kept to this day. A basilica was constructed the same year to store the loot and the area became a pilgrimage site for the devout, thus justifying the economic cost of the expedition. Saint Nicholas became claimed as a patron saint of many diverse groups, from archers and children to pawnbrokers. He is also the patron saint of both Amsterdam and Liverpool, among many others.

The Turkish Government announced that it would be formally requesting the return of St Nicholas’s bones to Turkey from the Italian government. Turkish authorities have cited the fact that St Nicolas himself wanted to be buried at his episcopal town. They also state that his remains were illegally removed from Turkey.

Is Saint Nicholas Day celebrated where you are? I vaguely recall that, when I was growing up in upstate New York State, the kids of central and eastern European ancestry had another holiday before Christmas, which made me jealous, but I did not yet have the intellectual curiosity to get the details.
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Oh, and remember You’re never too old to sit on Santa

Cookie Monster’s Letter to Santa

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3 thoughts on “St. Nick, the Real One

  1. I don’t know if this happens elsewhere, but Christingle is popular in the UK during advent. Mostly for children, it originated in the Moravian Church and you can read more about it here.

    My daughter is studying teaching English as a foreign language with students from other countries and found herself stumped trying to explain Boxing Day which is a holiday in the UK and elsewhere on 26 December. The origins of the name are unclear, but seem to stem from the Christmas boxes, or gifts, that tradesmen received on the first working day after Christmas.

    Whatever the origin, it is now traditionally a major date in the sporting calendar and also signals the start of the post-Christmas sales!

  2. It doesn’t matter if it’s St. Nicholas, St. Nick, Santa Claus, Father Christmas, Papa Noel, Pere Noel or Babbo Natale! The original inspired so much good will.

  3. What about Sinterklass and Zwarten Pieter? That was Santa and his sidekick “Black Pete” back in old New Amsterdam, and remains so today in Holland.

    Black Pete was (and still is) a black slave. Go back centuries before Europe learned about black people, you’ll find that Black Pete was originally a demon, thus the black face. Only later the demon became African.

    If I understand correctly, Black Pete not only hands out oranges to children, he also goes down chimneys to deliver presents while Sinterklass waits outside. I guess the lesson of this tradition is that a charitable disposition allows you to control both demons and underclass people.

    I guess some people don’t like Black Pete anymore:

    http://www.dutchdailynews.com/will-the-sinterklaas-tradition-die-without-black-pete/

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