The History of Saint Nicholas
From Saint Nicholas through the middle ages and up to our modern day Santa. Discover the travels and evolution of the World’s most prominent “gift -giver.” Saint Nicholas – a brief history
St. Nicholas was born in 280 AD, in Patara, a city of Lycia, in Asia Minor. He became the gift giver of Myra. His gifts were given late at night, so that the gift giver’s identity would remain a secret. St Nicholas was eventually named the patron saint of children, sailors, Russia and Greece.
St. Nicholas was a Christian priest, who later became a bishop. He was a rich person, and traveled the country helping people, giving gifts of money and other presents. St. Nicholas did not like to be seen when he gave away presents, so the children of the day were told to go to sleep quickly or he would not come! Nothing has changed and Santa Claus will not arrive this Christmas unless the children go to sleep early.
A famous story about St. Nicholas, is about a poor man who had no money to give to his three daughters on their wedding day. St Nick dropped bags of gold into the stockings which the girls had left to dry by the fire. The sisters found the gold and ever since, children have hung up stockings on Christmas Eve hoping that they will be filled with presents by Christmas morning.
Despite being quite young Nicholas had earned a reputation for kindliness and wisdom. In the year 303, the Roman emperor Diocletian commanded all the citizens of the Roman Empire, which included Asia Minor, to worship him as a god.
Christians believed in one god and one god alone, so their conscience would not allow them to obey the Emperor’s order. Angered by their stubbornness, Diocletian warnd the Christians that they would be imprisoned. The Emperor carried out the threat and St Nicholas who resisted too was also imprisoned. For more than five years, St Nicholas was confined to a small cell. He suffered from cold, hunger, and thirst, but he never wavered in his beliefs. In 313, when Diocletian resigned, and Constantine came to power Nicholas was released, and he returned to his post as Bishop of Myra. He continued his good works and became even wiser and more understanding by the time of his death on December 6, 343.
In the eyes of the Catholics, a saint is someone who has lived such a holy life that, after dying and going to heaven, he or she is still able to help people on earth. They often become patron to different groups of people – one such was children and many legends sprang up to explain his presence.
By 450, churches in Asia Minor and Greece were being named in honor of him. By 800, he was officially recognized as the a saint by the Eastern Catholic Church.
In the 1200s, December sixth began to be celebrated as Bishop Nicholas Day in France.
By end of the 1400s, St Nicholas was the third most beloved religious figure, after Jesus and Mary. There were more than 2000 chapels and monasteries named after him.
In the 1500s people in England stopped worshipping St Nicholas and favored more another gift giving figure Father Christmas. Over the centuries, St. Nicholas’ popularity grew, and many people in Europe made up new stories that showed his concern for children. The name Santa Claus was derived from the Dutch Sinter Klass pronunciation of St. Nicholas. Early Dutch settlers in New York (once called New Amsterdam) brought their traditions of St Nicholas. As children from other countries tried to pronounce Sinter Klass, this soon became Santa Klass, which was settled as Santa Claus. The old bishop’s cloak with mitre, jewelled gloves and crozier were soon replaced with his red suit and clothing seen in other modern images.
In Germanic countries, it sometimes became hard to tell where the legend of Nicholas began and that of Woden (or Odin) ended. Somewhere along the line, probably tied to the gold-giving story, people began giving presents in his name on his feast day. When the Reformation came along, his following disappeared in all the Protestant countries except Holland, where his legend continued as Sinterklass. Martin Luther, for example, replaced this bearer of gifts with the Christ Child, or, in German, Christkindl. Over the years, that became repronounced Kriss Kringle, and ironically is now considered another name for Santa Claus.
Saint Nicholas (Greek: Ἅγιος Νικόλαος, Hagios [“Saint”, literally “Holy”, Latin: Sanctus] Nicolaus [“victory of the people”]) (270 – 6 December 343), also called Nikolaos of Myra, was a historic 4th-century saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of modern-day Turkey) in Lycia. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker (Νικόλαος ὁ Θαυματουργός, Nikolaos ho Thaumaturgos).
He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos”.
His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was common for early Christian saints. In 1087, part of the relics (about half of the bones) were furtively translated to Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari. The remaining bones were taken to Venice in 1100. His feast day is 6 December [O.S. 19 December].
The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honored by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, thieves, children, pawnbrokers and students in various countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe (Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Georgia, Greece, Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia), as well as in parts of Western Europe (Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Portugal).
He is also the patron saint of Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Barranquilla, Bari, Burgas, Beit Jala, Fribourg, Huguenots, Kozani, Liverpool, Paternopoli, Sassari, Siggiewi, and Lorraine. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari.