The Truth About Saint Nicholas
FACT OR FANTASY The Fantasy of Saint Nicholas Many Christians attempt to justify their keeping of the Christmas tradition by speaking of the wonderful Christian man, Saint Nicholas, the ever-popular namesake of Santa Claus. They say that
FACT OR FANTASY
The Fantasy of Saint Nicholas
Many Christians attempt to justify their keeping of the Christmas tradition by speaking of the wonderful Christian man, Saint Nicholas, the ever-popular namesake of Santa Claus. They say that the giving of gifts represents the way he gave selflessly, something that even Jesus Himself would surely have done.
However, there is one major flaw with this story, and that is that there are absolutely no historical documents supporting his existence.
Furthermore, the stories that do circulate about Saint Nicholas are often varied, depending on who is telling the tale, and cannot be proved, as we stated already, by historical documents. Only church tradition.
The Origin of the Man
Saint Nicholas is certainly popular, however, in the Latin and Greek churches, where he is, by far, one of the most famous and popular of the saints. However, the certainty ends there. It is agreed, by those knowledgeable about Catholic Church history, that he was possibly a bishop at some point during the 300’s and that he might have been the bishop of Myra, which is now Finike, Turkey.
There are many stories about the man who was considered a devoted Christian. The tale is that he was born in Lycia, to a particularly wealthy family. Upon the death of his parents, he is said to have inherited a great deal of money, but chose not to keep any of it for himself.
Most Popular Legend
One of the most popular legends surrounding this giving man is the one that involves his throwing bags of gold through the window of a destitute widower. Apparently, he had three daughters but could not afford to pay the dowry for their marriages and had to consider selling them into prostitution. However, the gold provided by Saint Nicholas, saved the girls from this fate and led to the father pronouncing Nicholas as the most generous man he knew.
Another variation on the tale, further pointing towards the “Santa Claus” myth, claims that he sent the bag of gold down through the chimney, where it promptly fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry. Thus, the age-old tradition of hanging “stockings” on the fireplace mantle to be filled, by Santa, with goodies.
In another version of the tale, these same three young women have their heads chopped off by a particular innkeeper, but Nicholas shows up to resurrect them. Because of his miracle-working capability, he is sometimes also referred to as “Nicholas the Wonder Worker”. The miracles are said to have begun when he was a child and eventually, because of this, the people of Myra chose him as their bishop.
Another of his undocumented miracle stories concerns a group of sailors who were near perishing in a storm not far from Turkey’s coast. The sailors prayed to Saint Nicholas who was suddenly seen standing on the deck in front of them. He immediately gave orders to the sea to calm down, and the storm vanished, at which time the sailors were then able to return safely to port. If this story sounds familiar, that is because Jesus did the same thing, as documented in our Holy Bible, in Luke chapter 8 and Mark chapter 1.
Nicholas’s Imprisonment and Arian Confrontation
The tale goes on that when Maximian and Diocletian started to persecute Christians in that area, Nicholas was then put into prison for his faith. Constantine finally became emperor, at which time Nicholas and many others were allowed to return to their positions and preach the gospel. However, by that time, Arianism had come into play and so they were again faced with a new threat.
One biographer, who wrote some five hundred years after Nicholas had died, had this to say: “Thanks to the teaching of St. Nicholas, the metropolis of Myra alone was untouched by the filth of the Arian heresy, which it firmly rejected as a death-dealing poison.”
Another biographer also made claims about the way that Nicholas dealt with Arius, who was known to deny the entirety of the divinity of Christ. In this version, Nicholas went to the Council of Nicea and personally slapped Arius’ face. Furthermore, according to the writer, the bishops were so angry about this type of behavior, they immediately stripped him of the title of Bishop. The story goes on to say, however, that at this time, both Mary and Jesus showed up beside him, and the bishops quickly decided they had erred in this judgment and reinstated his bishophood.
This tale should be taken as purely fantasy, however, as there are clear historical records of the Council of Nicea and the things that went on there. They do not mention Nicholas at all. If this had actually happened, it would have been well recorded by the council.
Saint Nicholas In Medieval Times
While that is the brunt of the Saint Nicholas legend, it is not the last we hear of him. Even during the time at which Justinian reigned, Nicholas seemed to yet be so famous that there was a church dedicated to him in Constantinople. During the 900’s, a Greek writer penned these words: “The Test as well as the East Acclaims and glorifies him [Nicholas]. Wherever there are people, his name is revered and churches are built in his honor. All Christians reverence his memory and call upon his protection.”
Nicholas was apparently more frequently represented by medieval artists than any other Saint, except for Mary, with more than four hundred churches dedicated to him in England during the Middle Ages.
Since he was so popular during that time period, it was inevitable that his own legend would become caught up with other legends of the time. Particularly, in Germany, it was often hard to differentiate between the legend of Saint Nicholas and the legend of Odin, also known as Woden.
Other Versions of the Name and Meaning
In fact, some Christians who say that they are paying homage to Saint Nicholas by lying about the existence of Santa Claus to their children, will tell you that he came from Germany. Once the reformation took hold, however, much of Saint Nicholas’ following fell away. However, in Holland, they refused to let go of the legend and referred to him as Sinterklass. In England, however, they wanted to keep up the tradition of the delivery of presents to children on Christmas day, so they created “Father Christmas”, also known as “Old Man Christmas”, who represented a character from a play that was popular in the Middle Ages. France adopted the term, “Pere Noel”.
Marin Luther sought to replace Nicholas as a gift-bearer, and put, in his place, the Christ child. In German, this name was pronounced Christkindl and over the years, went on to morph into Kriss Kringle, thus adding another to the long line of names for the jolly man in red. (The red suit, of course, based on the red bishop robes of the Catholic Church that Saint Nicholas surely would have worn). This gift-giver was portrayed as the newborn baby Jesus, a boy with golden hair and wings.
Saint Nicholas Tales for Children
Twas the Night Before Christmas was written in 1823, and was the first tale in which Saint Nicholas was portrayed as driving a sleigh pulled by eight reindeer that could fly. Dr. Clement Clarke Moore published the tale, saying that he had written it for his children. However, some scholars have chosen to disagree, pointing towards Henry Livingston, Jr., an in-law of Dr. Moore, as the true author. Another popular story, describing one of these reindeer as having a red nose and being the brunt of other reindeer jokes was written in 1949.
The Death of Saint Nicholas
It is assumed, per tradition, that Saint Nicholas died on December 6 in either the year 345 or 352, though no one knows for sure and there are no death records. Bones that were claimed to belong to him were kept in Turkey until such time in 1087 that they were stolen by merchant sailors from Italy. It is said that his bones are kept to this day in a Church that bears his name, located in Italy in the Port of Bari.
Not to us, O Lord, not to us,
But to Your name be the glory
Because of Your love and your faithfulness!