The Customs of Christmas

Santa Claus

Santa Claus, St NicholasSt. Nicholas was born in 280 AD, in Patara, a city of Lycia, in Asia Minor. Legend says that when he was born he stood up in a tub, clasped his hands, and thanked God for bringing him into the world. Legend also says that he refused his milk on Wednesdays and Fridays, fasting days of the early church. As you can see much of the information we have on St. Nicholas's life comes in the form of legends, but there are some kernels of truth among all the legends. Nicholas's parents died while he was young leaving him great wealth. Instead of wasting the money on wild living Nicholas gave much of the money to the church and the poor.

Nicholas traveled to Myra to study for the priesthood. While he was studying he traveled by sea to Jerusalem. The ship ran into a storm which threatened to destroy the ship killing all on board. Nicholas prayed. The storm dissipated; the sea calmed; and the ship was spared. On the return trip the captain of the ship wanted to go to a different port from Myra. Nicholas wanted to go straight to Myra so he prayed once again. This time a storm came up not allowing the captain to go to the other port city.

Nicholas became bishop of Myra in 325 AD. As bishop he became well known for his great generosity and his love for children. Many of the legends of Nicholas and his miracles occur after this time some even occurring after his death. These are just some of the legends of St. Nicholas.

  1. A child was badly burned when he fell into the fire. The child was healed when Nicholas arrived making the sign of the cross over him.
  2. A rich nobleman had three daughters. Fortunes turned and the nobleman lost his riches. They had little or no money for daily necessities let alone dowries for the daughters. The nobleman was afraid he'd have to sell his daughters into servitude just to survive. Nicholas heard of their plight. He often secretly gave money to those in need. He waited until nightfall and tossed a bag of money through an open window into the first daughter's stocking which was hanging on the fireplace. The next night a second bag of money was tossed through the open window into the second daughter's stocking also hanging on the fireplace. On the third night the nobleman stayed awake and caught Nicholas throwing a third bag of money into the third daughter's stocking. The grateful nobleman thanked Nicholas and wanted to spread the news of what Nicholas had done, but Nicholas made him swear to secrecy.
  3. One time Nicholas was traveling in a famine-ravaged area. He stopped for the night at an inn that was known to serve many meat-filled dishes. When he was served Nicholas accused the innkeeper of killing and serving children. The innkeeper vehemently denied the charge, but Nicholas walked over to a tub containing the salted-down bodies of three boys. He made the sign of the cross over the tub. The three boys then returned to life, climbed out of the tub, and returned home.
  4. On at least two occasions Nicholas saved men from the executioner. One time he was dining with a group of church leaders when word came that three men were going to be executed for being rebels. Nicholas hurried to the scene, took the executioner's sword, and ordered the men released. Later three of Constantine's tribunes were falsely accused of being traitors. The three men prayed to Nicholas who heard their prayers hundreds of miles away. Nicholas then appeared to Constantine in a dream and ordered the release of the tribunes.
  5. The next three legends involve miracles that happened after the death of Nicholas. A certain Jew who lived in the city of Calabria stole the statue of Nicholas from the local parish church. He set the statue up in his house and told it to guard his possessions. If anything happened to his possessions he promised to beat the statue. One night thieves broke in and stole his possessions. True to his word the Jew beat the statue of Nicholas. That night a battered and bruised Nicholas appeared to the thieves and commanded them to return the stolen goods. The Jew then converted to Christianity.
  6. A wealthy man was getting along in age without an heir. The man prayed to Nicholas promising to give a gold cup to Nicholas's church in Myra if a son was born to him. A son was born. The gold cup was made. However, the man liked the gold cup so much that he kept it and made a silver cup to give to the church instead. The man and his son sailed to Myra to deliver the silver cup, but the son drowned on the voyage. Distraught the man completed the voyage and tried to give the silver cup to the church. The cup kept falling off the altar signifying a rejection of the gift. The door of the church then opened and in walked the dead son bringing the gold cup with him. The man was so relieved to have his son back that he gave both cups to the church.
  7. The son of a family that revered St. Nicholas was kidnaped by ruffians from a neighboring pagan kingdom. On December 6 the son thinking of his family celebrating St. Nicholas's feast began to weep. The pagan king noticed and began to deride the boy challenging St. Nicholas to deliver the boy from his power. The saint then appeared in a whirlwind and took the boy back to his family.

Nicholas died on December 6, 343. Many European countries celebrate this date as St. Nicholas's Day, and gifts are given on that day rather than December 25th.

The legend of St. Nicholas came to America with the Dutch settlers in New York. As America grew, so did the gift-giver's traits with each ethnic group adding more details. St. Nicholas's northern residence, fur-lined suit, and reindeer-pulled sleigh probably came from the Slavic regions; while his red suit, his secret arrival, and his giving to good boys and girls came from Europe. He was given physical attributes first by Clement C. Moore in his poem "The Night Before Christmas." Later, engravings by Thomas Nast in the late 1800's and paintings by Haddon Sundbloom, as advertisements for Coca-cola in the mid-1900's, allowed the world to see Santa as we know him today. Thus grew the modern day Santa Claus.

There are some countries where Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, is not the gift giver. In parts of Italy, southern France, Switzerland, Austria, and parts of Russia the three wisemen deliver the gifts. In other parts of Italy and Russia the gift giver is Befana, a witch who rides a broom and goes down the chimney of every house looking for the Christ child and leaves gifts for all good children on the eve of Epiphany, January 5. In Spain the gift giver is Bathazar, one of the three wisemen.

Jesus is the Reason for the season

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