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Was There Really a “Good Saint Nick”? (The Origin of Santa Claus)

For many centuries, Santa has been the patron saint of young people and has been associated with Christmas and gifts.  His name, originally from the Latin, Sanctus Nicolaus, has had various forms, including the German, Sankt Nikolaus, and Dutch Sinter Klaas.  Although it is customary to regard him as a myth, there was a real St Nicholas, an early Christian bishop, who lived during the 4th century.

Bishop Saint Nicholas

The association with magical powers

Nicholas was very popular as bishop, and several stories about him have been passed down.  It is said that he performed miracles in his time, and one such miracle was during a sailing journey, a mighty storm arose, and he sprinkled some magical dust into the air, said a prayer, and then the storm had stopped.  The sailors were astonished when the wind suddenly abated, and their lives and ship were saved.  Hence, the association with magical powers.

St Nick sprinkling magic fairy dust to stop the storm

The Santa Claus association with children is actually kinda creepy

Another miracle attributed to him happened in the year 325, when the sons of a rich man were killed and robbed by a wicked innkeeper.  This man hid the  bodies in casks of brine.  St. Nick was passing through the town one day, and he stayed at this very inn.  That night, in a dream, the crime was revealed to him.  He forced the man to confess.  He then prayed for the children, and the three boys were soon brought back to life.  Hence, the Santa Claus association with children. 

Yea, that’s kinda creepy

The stockings by the fireplace & the giving of gifts

Moreover, the most popular story of the saint’s good deeds concern the three daughters of a rich man that had unfortunately lost his fortune.  In those days, a daughter without a dowery had little chance of being married.

The bishop decided to remedy this; and when the oldest girl was of marriageable age, he went to their home in the middle of the night and secretly threw a bag of gold through the window. The girl married very well after that and at the proper time for the second girl, Nicolas repeated his kind deed.

When the third girl was of age, St. Nick decided to repeat his kind deed once more. This time, their dad decided to find out who the benefactor was, and caught St. Nick in the act of throwing the bag of gold into the window.  St. Nick, who was surprised and startled, had accidentally thrown the gold through the window, and right into some socks that were hanging near the chimney to dry.  Hence, the stockings by the fireplace association, and the giving of gifts.

Secretly putting stuff in socks


The symbol of carrying bags

In pictures and statues, St. Nicholas is depicted carrying three bags, or balls of gold, reminiscent of the gifts to the three daughters. 

St Nick and three bags of gold

To show their regard for him, since they lent money to clients, this symbol became associated with pawn shops.

Betcha didn’t know that one


The retail store association, and the red & white suit.

All of these stories may be true, but the modern Santa Claus was further developed by a well-known cartoonist, Tom Nast, who got a job from a local retailer to help sell fur coats.  A fat, bearded, jolly man in a fur coat was pictured in an advertisement in Harper’s Illustrated Weekly in the year 1863. 

Harper’s Illustrated Weekly 1863

Tom, who was a Union sympathizer, depicted the man in a red & white suit with blue boots, in order to give a political cheer to the Union soldiers and their families during the Civil War.  Hence, the retail store association, and the red & white suit.

Santa Portrait by Nast in 1881

Given the facts in this case, please remember why we are really celebrating the holiday? What this holiday season is all about isn’t material at all. It’s about the celebration of principles.  Principles that are the glue which holds us all together: Faith, Hope, Joy, Truth, Gratitude, Peace, Charity, and most of all the giving of and receiving of Love.

Sure it’s nice to receive gifts, even better to give them. But it’s a whole lot nicer to leave something behind like Hope and Joy. Let us have the courage to reach beyond the surface, so that we can find peace in our hearts and love for all. 

And now you know the Origin of the Santa Claus

Merry Christmas!

-Chip Souza


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