St Nicholas (Father Christmas) is the historical Santa Clause. He was Bishop of Myra, Asia Minor (near modern Finke, Turkey) around the year 325 AD. HIs traditional feast day is December 6. There are several legends about him which are summarized below. All have the same basic theme: he was the ultimate anonymous gift giver. He also did not expect a return for his good deeds. This generosity is now emulated around the world in the “Christmas Spirit”–giving to others.
It is told that St. Nicholas once threw gold balls into the window of a poor man who had three daughters. Since these girls had no dowry they had no hope of suitors and feared they would be sold into slavery or prostitution. St. Nicholas’ secret generosity saved them from this shame and caused him to become known as the “protector of virgins” and the “patron of maidens in search of a husband”.
It is also told that St. Nicholas saved people from starvation during a famine in Myra. He did this by begging sailors of merchant ships to share some fo their grain with the people in Myra. He promised the sailors that at the final weigh-in not one ounce of grain would be missing. This miracle was a reward for their generosity.
Finally, the most common story is of St. Nicholas special love for children. At night he would secretly put candies and treats in their shoes which were left by the door (the poor only wore shoes when outside to make them last longer). Today, children around the world place their shoes by the door on the eve of Dec. 6 so that St. Nicholas can fill them with candies and treats.
Early Christians did not exchange gifts on Christmas day. Instead their parents were shared on the Feast of the Epiphany ( Jan. 6) to commemorate the Magi’s gifts to the baby Jesus.
The true Christmas season is from December 24, Christmas Eve to January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. Decorating and tree trimming were done on Christmas Eve while parties and visiting were done through the Feast of the Epiphany. Unlike today, there was no let down on December 26 since the fun had just begun!
“The Night Before Christmas” was originally titled “A visit from St. Nicholas”. It was written in 1822 by Clement C. Moore for his children’s enjoyment. As a seminary professor, he took life very seriously and had a reputation for opposing “frivolous amusements”. He was actually embarrassed by the apparent frivolity of writing such a poem–just for the fun of it! A friend of the family had the poem published anonymously and it became and instant hit. However, it took over 20 years before Mr. Moore would claim authorship. This is the story which changed Santa’s image from an old man with long beard and red robe who did good deeds into a jolly, round, old man who rode in a sleigh pulled by reindeer.
Encouragement: A publication by Angela DiCicco and Gail Signor