It’s the most wonderful time of the year! With the kids jingle belling and everyone telling you “be of good cheer!” It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
I hope everyone is having a wonderful winter break. I am so happy to be home spending Christmas with my family. There is nothing better than listening to carols and helping my parents to decorate our Christmas tree. However, I cannot help but be annoyed with the commercialization of this and other holidays. All you hear about is people rushing to finish their holiday shopping. It has reached the point where the gifts have become more important than the holiday itself. In an effort to change that, I would like to share with you the true story of Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus).
The story begins in the 4th century AD in the town of Myra (now Demre in modern-day Turkey). Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, was a much-loved figure. Born to wealthy parents, he was known for his good deeds, which have been immortalised in legends told for generations. Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker.
One legend speaks of a terrible famine, during which a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, murdered them, and pickled them hoping to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, who was visiting the region to care for the hungry, realized the butcher’s horrific crime and miraculously resurrected the three boys through his prayers.
According to another legend, during a great famine that Myra experienced in 311–312 AD, a ship loaded with wheat for the Emperor in Constantinople sat anchored in the city’s harbor. Saint Nicholas asked the sailors to unload part of the wheat to help feed the city’s starving residents. The sailors disliked the request at first because the wheat had to be weighed accurately and delivered to the Emperor. However, Nicholas promised them that they would not suffer any loss for their charity, and the sailors agreed. When they arrived later in the capital, they made a surprising find: the weight of the load had not changed, although the wheat removed in Myra was enough for two full years.
Saint Nicholas also had a reputation for secret gift-giving. In his most famous legend, a poor merchant could not afford a dowry for his three daughters. This meant that they would remain unmarried and would have to become prostitutes in the absence of alternative employment. Even if they did not, unmarried maidens in those days would have been assumed to be prostitutes. Nicholas heard of the girls’ plight and decided to help them. However, he was too modest to help the family in public. Under the cover of night, he arrived at the merchant’s home and threw three purses filled with gold coins through a window into the house. Told and retold, one version has the windows barred, forcing Nicholas to hurl the coins down the chimney, landing in the girls’ stockings -which were hung up to dry over the fire’s embers.
Nicholas was known nationwide as a generous giver and a kind person, so much so that he was called Saint Nicholas even while he was alive. As he rode his sleigh through the streets, children would line up and cry out his name “Sant Ni Chlas,” which was translated into Santa Claus. His name and legends were passed on from generation to generation for hundreds of years and brought to America.
In a tradition followed to this day, children clean and leave out their best shoes for Saint Nicholas on his feast day – St Nicholas Day (December 6 in Western Christianity and 19 December in Eastern Christianity). The next morning, they wake up to find presents in them.