On the original St. Nicholas

Saint Nicholas Saves Three Innocents from Death…”


Normally at this point in the week – by Wednesday afternoon – I publish a post on the readings for the next upcoming Sunday.  (As for example On the readings for December 7.)   However, I just got back late last night (Tuesday night) from a funeral in Florida (which wasn’t so sunny), and now am struggling to get back up to “game speed.”

So for a change of pace (and a bit of CYA), this week I’ll do a post on the original St. Nicholas, “also called Nikolaos of Myra … a historic 4th-century Christian saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (Demre, part of modern-day Turkey) in Lycia[, who b]ecause of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker.”  See Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, and also Saint Nicholas (bishop of Myra) | Encyclopedia Britannica:

Saint Nicholas, also called Nicholas of Bari or Nicholas of Myra [is] one of the most popular minor saints commemorated in the Eastern and Western churches and now traditionally associated with the festival of Christmas.  In many countries children receive gifts on December 6, Saint Nicholas Day.

Which is being interpreted:  December 6 is the Feast for “Nicholas, Bishop of Myra” in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, not to mention numerous other denominations, as noted below.  But that gives rise to a reasonable question:  Why do we celebrate Christmas on December 25, if Saint Nicholas Day is December 6?

There are any number of theories, but the most reasonable seems to be that December 25 is exactly nine months after March 25, traditionally celebrated as the date of The Annunciation, the date of the “announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God.”  See Annunciation – Wikipedia, and also Why is Christmas celebrated on December 25? — Ask HISTORY,Why December 25? | Christian History, and/or How December 25 Became Christmas – Biblical Archaeology Society.

There were some notes in those sites about about the “pagan origins of the Christmas date,” and also about the confusion caused by the changeover to the Gregorian Calendar:

Another wrinkle was added in the sixteenth century when Pope Gregory devised a new calendar, which was unevenly adopted.  The Eastern Orthodox and some Protestants retained the Julian calendar, which meant they celebrated Christmas 13 days later than their Gregorian counterparts.  Most – but not all – of the Christian world now agrees on the Gregorian calendar and the December 25 date.

But before the digression we were talking about the original St. Nicholas, who eventually became the prototype for the modern-day Santa Claus, not to mention being the patron saint for sailors, pawnbrokers and “repentant thieves:”

He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, a practice celebrated on his feast day … and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas, itself from a series of elisions and corruptions of the transliteration of “Saint Nikolaos…”   The historical Saint Nicholas is commemorated and revered among Anglican,Catholic, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians [and others].  Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers and students in various cities and countries around Europe.

Incidentally, you can see the full set of Bible readings – in the Anglican Church – for this original prototype of Santa Claus at Nicholas, Bishop, but here’s the Collect for the Feast Day:  “Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea:  Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief…”

But this “Saint Nicholas” wasn’t always so popular, especially after the Reformation.  (See Protestant Reformation – Wikipedia.)   Most of the new “Protestant countries of Europe” abandoned the idea of praying to saints, except for Holland:

Dutch colonists took this tradition [of St. Nicholas] with them to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in the American colonies in the 17th century.  Sinterklaas was adopted by the country’s English-speaking majority under the name Santa Claus, and his legend of a kindly old man was united with old Nordic folktales of a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good children with presents.  The resulting image of Santa Claus in the United States crystallized in the 19th century, and he has ever since remained the patron of the gift-giving festival of Christmas.

See Saint Nicholas … Encyclopedia Britannica.   So there you have the rest of the story…



The upper image is courtesy of Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “Saint Nicholas Saves Three Innocents from Death (oil painting by Ilya Repin, 1888, State Russian Museum).”   See also St. Nicholas Center ::: Saint Who Stopped an Execution:

[W]hile Nicholas was visiting a remote part of his diocese, several citizens from Myra came to him with urgent news: the ruler of the city, Eustathius, had condemned three innocent men to death.  Nicholas set out immediately for home.  Reaching the outskirts of the city, he asked those he met on the road if they had news of the prisoners.  Informed that their execution was to be carried out that morning, he hurried to the executioner’s field.  Here he found a large crowd of people and the three men kneeling with their arms bound, awaiting the fatal blow.  Nicholas passed through the crowd, took the sword from the executioner’s hands and threw it to the ground, then ordered that the condemned men be freed from their bonds.  His authority was such that the executioner left his sword where it fell…


The lower image is courtesy of Santa Claus – Wikipedia, with the caption, “1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, along with Clement Clarke Moore’s poem ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas,’ helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.”

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