The globally recognized Christian saint with a white beard, who sparked the creation of America's secular figure of Santa Claus, is known as Saint Nicholas. However, not many are aware of the origins of St. Nicholas, the benevolent saint celebrated annually on December 6th. His legend is not only about distributing sweets and gifts to children.
Who was Saint Nicholas ? He was a Christian bishop from Myra, a Mediterranean seaport city in present-day Turkey, and he lived in the fourth century.
St. Nicholas, also referred to as St. Nick, received wide adoration throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. He featured significantly in art and liturgical dramas during the medieval period, as indicated by the Encyclopedia Britannica. St. Nicholas serves as the patron saint of multiple regions, including Greece, Russia, Moscow, New York, along with several charities, children, and pawnbrokers.
Sailors also regard him as their patron saint. In 1807, Italian sailors relocated St. Nicholas' remains from Myra to the seaport of Bari, on the southeastern edge of Italy's boot. A church was constructed in his honor in Bari, and what are believed to be his relics are housed in the Basilica of San Nicola, an 11th-century church.
Each year on December 6th, St. Nicholas Day is observed. Traditionally, stockings and shoes left out by children overnight are filled with candies and toys. It is a particularly apt date for sailors to celebrate their patron saint.
There are several legends of St. Nicholas that are known throughout the world and can be found in a broad range of literature, from medieval scripts to contemporary poetry. Some of the stories recount how he intervened to help unfairly sentenced prisoners and even saved sailors during storms miraculously.
One of the most well-known tales involves an old man with three daughters who lacked funds for their dowries. It is said that St. Nicholas anonymously donated gold coins to the family by throwing them through the man’s window.
How did St. Nicholas inspire tradition Santa Claus? In the wake of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, veneration for St. Nicholas dwindled, except in the Netherlands, where his myth continued as Sinterklaas. The Sinterklaas tradition traveled to New York in the 17th century, thanks to Dutch Protestants who settled there.