How did a fourth century Turkish bishop come to be known as Santa Claus?
St. Nicholas was born in the year 270.
At an early age he was selected to be the Bishop of Myra in what is now Turkey.
After his death on Dec. 6, 343, he was canonized and that date was selected as his feast day.
It was said that when Nicholas was orphaned as a young man he took the words of Jesus to heart and used his entire inheritance to aid the poor, the sick and the suffering.
His concern for children and the poor would continue throughout his life.
Among the miracles attributed to him was a time when famine ravaged Myra for a period of several years.
He learned that some ships had made port nearby and were loaded with grain.
He went to the port and begged to have some of the grain given to him for distribution to the hungry.
The sailors on the ships told him that they could not give him any since the amounts had been recorded and they would be in serious trouble if they did not arrive at their destination without all of the grain.
Nicholas told the mariners that if a measure of grain was removed from each of the ships and given to him that they would find upon arrival at their final destination that all of the grain would be there.
He fed the poor
Sure enough the grain was given and the ships arrived with no missing grain.
Nicholas used the grain to feed the poor for several years and still had enough left to plant a crop.
Another story regards his generosity to three young women who were unable to wed because their families had no dowry to give to their prospective husbands.
It was said that the bishop knew of their plight and tossed a small bag of gold into the windows of each of the maidens so that they would have a dowry.
Among the various occupations that count St. Nicholas as their patron saint are pawnbrokers and bankers.
For many years, the signs indicating a pawnbroker or moneylender used the device of three golden balls representing the three bags of gold.
During the Middle Ages, sailors spread the tales of St. Nicholas resulting in the building of thousands of churches all over Europe, three hundred in Belgium alone.
There according to legend he appears mounted on a white horse wearing his Bishop’s miter (hat).
Becoming more the image of Father Christmas as time evolved.
Still the custom
It is still the custom for the gift giving surrounding Christmas time in Europe to be done on St. Nicholas feast day of Dec. 6.
Children awaken that morning to find that their shoes have been filled with small gifts, candy and fruit.
Instead of milk and cookies, many have left hay and carrots in their shoes for the horse.
For whatever reason the story of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus has become intertwined although they really aren’t the same person.
They have a love of children in common and make it their mission to spread good throughout the world.
But calling Santa, St. Nick is really not quite right.
The image of Santa was inaccurately depicted in the early 1800s as being St. Nicholas arriving from the north driving a sleigh with flying reindeer.
One of the most popular works was A Visit from St. Nicholas, aka ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, written in 1823.
After all, we don’t sing, “Jolly old St. Nicholas throw some gold my way. Don’t you tell a single soul, you’ve got grain to weigh.”
Not quite as festive, but that would be more accurate.
Jim Robertson is a longtime Harrison resident, a member of Harrison City Council, and a weekly columnist for The Harrison Press.
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