St. Nick a Mid Easterner?
Well, kind of. Some of you may remember the days when the land currently known as Turkey was called Asia Minor. That’s what we saw on our maps at least back when I was in school and what we learned in geography. But I certainly don’t remember my teachers telling me about the most famous “Turk” of all. Did you know St. Nicolas was a Catholic Bishop? Yep. It’s true.
The true story of Santa Claus begins with Nicholas, who was born about 300 years after Jesus in the village of Patara (on the southern coast of Turkey). His wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young. Taking to heart Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” Nicholas used his entire inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. Due to his sincerity, he was soon made the Bishop of Myra. Bishop Nicholas became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. If you’re a sailor, you may recognize that he became the patron saint of said watery kind.
Stories of the saint have been handed down through time. One story tells of a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value—a dowry. The larger the dowry, the better the chance for a young woman to land a good husband. Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry.
Without dowries, these girls, were destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, on three different occasions, a bag of gold appeared in their home. The bags of gold, were supposedly tossed through an open window only to land in stockings or shoes left near the fire to dry. (Thus the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. )*
If you’re into theology and stuff like that, you might find it interesting that under the Roman Emperor at that time (Diocletian), Christians like Bishop Nicholas suffered for their faith, were exiled and imprisoned. The prisons were so full of bishops, priests, and deacons, there was no room for the real criminals—murderers, thieves and robbers. An added tip for you Religious History buffs, after his release, it is said that Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea in AD 325.
As you can see, the original Saint Nick is a bit of a far cry from the Americanized Santa we have managed to create and enjoy over the past 100 or so years. Nothing wrong with enjoying Santa if you ask me, but it never hurts to know “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey used to say. It sure makes for some interesting Christmas party conversation to be sure.
Just my thoughts.