I love Christmas for all kinds of reasons, every bit of the hustle and bustle reminds me of my childhood, I suppose, and all of the excitement my mom built around the whole season. Christmas at our house didn’t actually happen in just a day because my mom built it into the entire month of December, with every day bringing the hint of new surprises.
It wasn’t for decades that I actually went searching for just who this jolly St. Nick actually was….or if he even really was. Of course, by then I was also trying to work out the argument that seemed to swirl around me in so many, many conversations, the argument of Santa vs Jesus and how they both fit into Christmas. Although I’m sure you’ve all done your own study, today I’m giving myself a refresher course.
It seems that during the 3rd century, there actually was born a boy named Nicholas who entered the world into a very wealthy family, his parents both Christians. The family lived in what today would be the country of Turkey and, of course, they began to rear their son in the Christian religion.
Unfortunately, Nicholas’ parents both died while he was still just a boy, and he inherited their fortune. When he became a young man, Nick used his entire fortune to help the poor, giving in the name of God as he dedicated his life to serving God. Obviously, this is how Nicholas became known, and he eventually was made a Bishop in the church while he was still a young man.
The mystic surrounding the man that still carries into today probably arose because most of the time Nick delivered his gifts in secret, usually as the people slept. It is also said that his giving inspired others, who began giving in his name.
Of course, you know the story of how the Romans began their persecution of the Christians, and the leaders of the religion were eventually rounded up and imprisoned, not for any crime they had committed, but for their Christianity itself. Obviously, a public figure like Nick was a prime target, and he too was put into prison.
Since I am writing from memory I do not remember (if I ever knew) how long the man remained in prison. However, his death came on December 6, 343. As so often happens, the stories about Nick grew and grew until it is basically impossible to separate the man from the myth today.
In about 800 the Catholic church deemed him St. Nicholas; by the 1200s, parts of Europe were celebrating St. Nicholas Day on December 6, the date of his death, as St. Nicholas Feast Day.
Through the centuries the stories of St. Nick survived with his popularity growing.
By the 1500s, the Dutch (using their own pronunciation) were calling the man Sinter Klass. As they migrated to the New York area in the 1600s (with some of my own family, I might add), the Dutch pronunciation gradually became Santa Clause as different ethnic groups began to use it for a very jolly old gent who slipped into houses, leaving gifts while everyone was sleeping.
Of course, calendars changed, causing dates to change, and today we take December 25 as a day to stop and remember the fact that 2,000 or so years ago God sent His son to earth in the form of a baby named Jesus. We also continue the tradition set forth so long ago by a young man named Nicholas.
I hope in this time of wonderful holiday giving, we all take time to do what Nick did: model by living out the commands of Jesus to help those who are in need, not just at Christmas but whenever and wherever we find them.
Have a wonderful Merry Christmas!
Photo from Wikipedia