reek Orthodox tradition tells of Saint Nicholas
being born around 280 AD, the only child of a wealthy, elderly couple who lived in Patara, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey).
When his parents died in a plague, Nicholas
inherited their wealth.Nicholas
generously gave to the poor, but did it anonymously as he wanted the glory to go to God.
One notable incident was when a merchant
in town had gone bankrupt
threatened to take, not only the merchants' assets, but his children.
The merchant had three daughters
. He knew if they were taken it would probably mean a life of sex-trafficking and prostitution.
The merchant had the idea of quickly marrying his daughters off
so the creditors could not take them.
Unfortunately, he did not have money for a dowry
, which was needed in that area of the world for a legally recognized wedding. Nicholas
heard of the merchant's dilemma and threw a bag of money in the window
for the oldest daughter's dowry.
Supposedly the bag of money
landed in a shoe or a stocking
that was drying by the fireplace
It was the talk of the town when the first daughter got married.Nicholas
then threw a bag of money in the window for the second daughter
and she was able to get married.
Upon throwing money in for the third daughter
, the merchant ran outside and caught Nicholas. Nicholas made him promise not to tell where the money came from, as he wanted the credit to go to God.
This was the origin of the tradition of secret gift-giving
on the anniversary of Saint Nicholas
' death, which was DECEMBER 6, 343 AD.
The three gold balls
outside a pawnbrokers shop represent the three bags of gold
St. Nicholas used to rescue a family in their time of financial need. Get the book There Really is a Santa Claus - The History of St. Nicholas & Christmas Holiday Traditions
became Bishop of Myra
, a busy port city on the coast of Asia Minor.
Soon St. Nicholas was arrested
during Emperor Diocletian's
brutal persecution of Christians.St. Nicholas
would not deny his faith in Christ!St. Nicholas
was freed when Emperor Constantine
ended Rome's three century long persecution of Christians.
When the first major heresy, the Arian Heresy
, began to split the Christian Church, Constantine ordered all the bishops to go to Nicea
to settle it, which they did by writing the Nicene Creed.
The tradition is that St. Nicholas
attended the Council of Nicea
and was so upset at Arius
for starting this heresy that he slapped him across the face.
Jolly Old St. Nick had a little temper!
preached against sexual immorality and Diana worship at Ephesus
. The Apostle Paul
also had preached there according to the Book of Acts, chapter 19.
The Temple to Diana
was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World
, having 127 huge pillars . . . and temple prostitutes.
It was the Las Vegas of the Mediterranean world.
The people responded to St. Nicholas' fiery preaching
by tearing down the local temple to Diana. St. Nicholas
also stood up to corrupt government politicians.
One story was of a corrupt governor
who was about to execute some innocent soldiers in order to cover up his misdeeds. St. Nicholas
broke through the crowd, grabbed the executioner's sword, threw it down and then exposed the governor's evil plot.
Greek Orthodox tradition attributes many miraculous
answers to St. Nicholas'
Once a storm was so bad that fishermen and sailors were not able to get back to shore.
The people asked St. Nicholas to pray and the sea became calm enough for the fishermen and sailors to return safely to port.
This led to St. Nicholas
being considered the patron saint of sailors.There Really is a Santa Claus-The History of Saint Nicholas & Christmas Holiday Traditions St. Nicholas'
reputation grew so much that he became to Greek Orthodox Christians
what St. Peter
was to Roman Catholic Christians
In the 5th century a church in Myra was named after St. Nicholas, being rebuilt by Emperor Justinian
after an earthquake in 529.
In 988, Vladimir the Great of Russia
converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and adopted Nicholas as the Patron Saint of Russia
In the 11th century, Muslim terrorists, the Seljuks Turks,
invaded Asia Minor, killing Christians, destroying churches and digging up the bones of Christian saints and desecrating them
For protection, Christians shipped the remains of St. Nicholas
to a church in the town of Bari
in southern Italy in the year 1087. Pope Urban II
dedicated the church, naming it after St. Nicholas - the Basilica di San Nicola
, thus introducing the Greek St. Nicholas
to Western Europe.
So many Christians were fleeing the Muslim invasion of Eastern Europe that Pope Urban II
went to the Council of Claremont in 1095 and called upon European leaders to send help.
Help was sent help - it was called the First Crusade
With St. Nicholas'
remains in Italy, western Europeans quickly embraced the gift-giving traditions associated with St. Nicholas' Day - DECEMBER 6. How did St. Nicholas become Santa Claus?
By 1223, so much attention was being given to gift-giving during the Christmas season, that Saint Francis of Assisi
wanted to refocus the attention to the birth of Christ.
St. Francis created the first creche
or nativity scene.
In 1517, Martin Luther
began the Reformation
He ended all "saints days," including the popular "St. Nicholas Day,"
considering them a distraction from Christ.
Since Germans like the gift-giving so much, Martin Luther
moved the gift-giving to December 25th to emphasize that all gifts come from the Christ Child.
The German pronunciation of Christ Child was "Christkindl"
, which over the centuries got pronounced Kris Kringle
Greeks built on the prophecy of Jesus returning at the end of the world
to judge the living and the dead, riding a white horse,
and the saints returning with him riding white horses.St. Nicholas
will certainly be one of those returning saints.
Similar to Roman Catholics stories of St. Peter at the Gates of Heaven, the Greek have a story that St. Nicholas
comes back once a year for a sort of mini pre-Judgement Day.
Over the centuries, the story evolved.
In Norway they did not have horses so St. Nicholas
is riding a reindeer.
Saints came heaven, the New Jerusalem, the Celestial City
- which turned into the North Pole
The Lamb's Book of Life
and Book of Works
turned into the Book of the Naughty and the Nice.
turned into elves.
During Henry VIII's reign, Christmas in England became a time of partying and carousing. When Puritans took over England and outlawed Christmas as too worldly.
When the Puritans settled Massachusetts, they had a five shilling fine for anyone caught celebrating Christmas.
The Dutch loved Christmas and St. Nicholas traditions.
They embellished the story with St. Nicholas having a Moorish costumed helper who would put naughty children in sacks to take back to Spain to sell into Muslim slavery.
Eventually, Dutch immigrants
brought St. Nicholas
traditions to New Amsterdam
, which became New York
Dutch pronounced Saint Nicholas
as "Sinter Klas
s," which became "Santa Claus." Washington Irvin
g was the author of Legend of Sleepy Hallow
and Rip Van Winkle.
also wrote Diedrich Knickerbocker's A History of New York,
1809, in which he swapped out St. Nicholas' Bishop's outfit
for a Dutch outfit of long-trunk hose, leather belt, boots and a stocking hat. Clement Moore
wrote in 1823 "A Visit From St. Nicholas
'TWAS the night before Christmas,
when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring,
not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung
by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas
soon would be there..."Clement Moore
describe St. Nicholas
"He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself...." Harper's Weekly illustrator Thomas Nast
drew St. Nicholas visiting Union troops. Thomas Nast
, who was famous for inventing the Republican elephant
and Democrat mule
for his political cartoons, was the first artist to put a "North Pole" sign behind St. Nick as a subtle jab against the South during the Civil War.
In 1930, Coca Cola hired artist Haddon Sundblom,
famous for his Quaker Oats man
, to create a painting every year of "Jolly Old St. Nick"
Find out much more about Saint Nicholas and Christmas Traditions in the fascinating book: There Really is a Santa Claus-The History of Saint Nicholas & Christmas Holiday Traditions.Kirk Cameron mentioned Bill Federer's book in an interview about his new movie Saving Christmas