Saint Nicholas, a.k.a. Santa Claus

Feast day December 6

St. Nick © Aris Dervis

© Aris Dervis 2003

December 2003

Saint Nicholas, a.k.a. Santa Claus

Patron of brewers, brides, children, perfumers, prisoners, spinsters and travelers and Amsterdam.

The cult of St. Nicholas is one of the strongest and most enduring through Eastern Europe. Yet, as with so many early saints, the actual facts of his life remain obscure and the legends surrounding him tell of a darker and more ambivalent spirit than what we've come to particularly associate with the name in Western culture.

One St. Nicholas story says he restored three boys to life after they were drowned in a brine tub by an evil butcher. Another asserts that he generously gave three bags of gold to three young girls - Christian virgins all - in order to save them from prostitution (they used the gold as dowries to attract respectable Christian husbands).

So how did St. Nicholas eventually become best known as the benevolent Santa Claus? It seems that the stories of Nicholas' generosity, especially toward children, became confused with various northern European folk stories about a pagan "gift giver" with tremendous magical powers, and who periodically appeared in order to reward the good and punish the wicked.

Many of our current Christmas customs have their origins in pagan times, when the new Year was a time of much ritualistic superstition to ensure good luck in the coming year.

(From Heaven Help Us by Alice and Clare La Plante)