RF - The Origins of Santa Claus

Gary Houser ghouser at wt.net
Thu Dec 23 12:48:29 PST 1999

January 1, 1881, established the prototype for the modern Santa Claus.

The original Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, was born in the ancient
southeastern Turkish town of Lycia early in the fourth century. To show
piety as a child, he adopted a self-imposed twice-weekly fast (on
Wednesdays and Fridays). Then, upon the early death of his parents, he
fully dedicated his life to Christ, entering a Lycian seminary. It was
on a
boat journey to Palestine that he is supposed to have extended his arms
stilled a violent sea, the first of his many miracles. Later, he would
become the patron saint of sailors.

At an early age, Nicholas was appointed bishop of Myra, in Asia Minor.
success in winning converts, and his generosity toward the poor,
Roman officials. During a great Christian persecution, he was imprisoned

and tortured under orders of the despotic Roman emperor Gaius
The ruler, after a reign of terror and profligacy, abruptly abdicated at

age sixty in favor of the simple life of farming and raising cabbages.
pleased many Romans and was most fortunate for Nicholas. The new
Constantine (who would later convert to Christianity), freed the bishop.

And when Constantine convened the first Church council at Nicaea in 325,

Nicholas attended as a prominent member. He is believed to have died on
December 6, 342, and eventually was adopted as the patron saint of
Greece and Sicily.

Two aspects of St. Nicholas's life led to his becoming Santa Claus: His
generosity was legend, and he was particularly fond of children. We know

this primarily through Roman accounts of his patronage of youth, which
eventually led to his becoming the patron saint of children. Throughout
Middle Ages, and well beyond, he was referred to by many names-none of
Santa Claus.

Children today would not at all recognize the St. Nick who brought gifts
European children hundreds of years ago-except perhaps for his cascading

white beard. He made his rounds in full red-and-white bishop's robes,
complete with twin-peaked miter and crooked crozier. He was pulled by no

fleet-footed reindeer, but coaxed in indolent donkey. And he arrived not

late on Christmas Eve, but on his Christian feast day, December 6. The
gifts he left beside the hearth were usually small and disappointing by
today's standards: fruit, nuts, hard candies, wood and clay figurines.
were better, though, than the gifts later European Santas would leave.

During the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, St. Nicholas

was banished from most European countries. Replacing him were more
figures, such as Britain's Father Christmas and France's Papa No

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