Today, December 6th, is one of the most important days in the run up to Christmas. St Nicholas’ day. But who was the real St Nicholas, what has he got to do with Christmas and what’s he got to do with Santa Claus?
Saint Nicholas himself was born in around 270 somewhere in modern Turkey, although technically as he was born in 270 that makes him Greek… (Awkward!) This also made him a citizen of the Roman empire and he was supposed to have been very devoutly religious from an early age. This was in 270 when being a Christian was still something that was very much looked down on. Don’t forget that it wasn’t until the edict of Milan in 313 that the Roman emperors actually stopped persecuting Christians, and take note that it wasn’t actually until 380 that Rome officially adopted Christianity. As St Nicholas died in 343 we can therefore conclude that he was in a minority for much of his life. We can even suggest that although he was religious from an early age he probably had to hide/subdue his faith for most of his life, particularly as Diocletian (emperor from 284) was one of harshest when it came to persecuting Christians. He certainly wouldn’t have been able to shout about his faith on the streets.
And that’s kind of where the connection to Santa Claus comes in. Faithful Christians would leave shoes outside their houses and St Nicholas would go around in secret and put coins or other gifts in the shoes. He did other things as well (like multiplying wheat sheafs) but giving the gifts is what he’s most remembered for and over the years his story has evolved to what we today know as the jolly fat man with the beard in the red suit. The real St Nick was actually nothing like that.
Take for instance his height. Recent studies of his bones suggest he was only 5 foot tall, just two inches over the height limit for dwarfism which gives you a good idea. (For comparison Queen Victoria was 4’11.) And he probably didn’t go ho-ho-ho either. In fact, being an extremely devout early Christian he probably wasn’t much fun at all. He was probably really serious, like those old guys who just ride busses all day and never smile. But somehow over the years he’s evolved into the jolly fat man who slides down chimneys and rides around the sky with a bunch of reindeer. In fact the only connection to Santa seems to be the gift giving and the fact that he is the patron saint of children (Also for some reason Sailors and the falsely accused.)
Oh, and apparently his bones (located in Bari, Italy,) leak once a year and they collect the fluid and apparently sell it in the gift shop. I guess that would kind of make the ultimate Christmas present then- Liquified Santa! (Give it to a kid and watch their face… It’s almost as hilarious as giving them a lump of coal!)