I believe in Santa Claus
I believe in him because
I sat on his knee and we
Laughed so very merrily
This was my tenth year of our company’s Kiddie Xmas, photographing the employees’ kids with Santa. Every year, my operation gets a little more sophisticated. This year, I put my new musical toys to use. The train whistle and the sleigh bells were particularly effective in getting the attention of little howlers and little wandering minds.
They hired a professional Santa this year. Our previous Santas were all volunteer employees. They didn’t realize what a difficult job the man in the red suit has. Even this one had given up on crying youngsters. He said there was no sense in forcing them and I couldn’t agree more, which was why I invented the concept of the “Mommy Chair.” Santa was very impressed and surprised at how smoothly things went.
Santa has almost as many songs written about him as the savior he served in real life. Few people realize the true story of St. Nicholas. He was desanctified by the Catholic Church in 1962, under Vatican II. Some original tales have it that he was robbed and murdered by Muslim thieves. Other tales have it that they imprisoned him and upon his release, traveled north from Turkey to a region in Northern Europe.
Saint Nicholas is absolutely venerated in The Netherlands (Holland). In Holland, St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6th) is still observed, and his faithful servant, Black Peter, still assists him. Saint Nicholas ( Greek for “victory of the people”) was born in 270 and died Dec. 6, 346. Nicholas is the canonical and most popular name for Nikolaos of Myra, a saint and Greek Bishop of Myra (present-day, Kale, formerly Demre, on the coast of southern Turkey).
Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nikolaos the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose English name comes from the Dutch Sinterklaas. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as is common for early Christian saints. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southeastern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nikolaos of Bari.
The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honored by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of children, students, sailors, merchants, archers, and thieves in Greece, Belgium, France, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Albania, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of Aberdeen, Amsterdam, Barranquilla, Bari, Beit Jala, Fribourg, Huguenots, Liverpool, Siggiewi, and Lorraine. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Santa Claus the patron saint of New Amsterdam, the historical name for New York City. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari.
A nearly identical story is attributed by Greek folklore to Basil of Caesarea. In Greece, people exchange gifts on Basil's feast day, Jan. 1.
Although he was the patron saint of Russia, and the model for a northern invention such as Santa Claus, Nicholas of Myra was Greek. Saint Nicholas (Bishop of Myra) replaced Sabino as the patron saint in Asia Minor during the 3rd century in the Greek colony of Patara, Demre, Lycia (part of modern-day Turkey), at a time when the region was part of the Roman province of Asia and was Hellenistic in its culture and outlook. He was the only son of wealthy Christian parents named Epiphanus and Johanna, and was very religious from an early age. According to legend, Nicholas was said to have rigorously observed the canonical fasts of Wednesdays and Fridays. His wealthy parents died in an epidemic while Nicholas was still young and he was raised by his uncle—also named Nicholas—who was the bishop of Patara. He tonsured the young Nicholas (shaved all his hair off except for the very top), and later as presbyter (priest). Nicholas also spent time the Holy Sion monastery Holy Sion, which his uncle founded.
In 1071, Romanus IV, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, faced Sultan Alp Arslan of the Seljuk Turks in the Battle of Manzikert. The battle ended in humiliating defeat and capture for Romanus. As a result, the Empire temporarily lost control over most of Asia Minor to the invading Seljuk Turks. The Byzantines would regain its control over Asia Minor during the reign of Alexius I Comnenus. But early in his reign, Myra was overtaken by the Islamic invaders.
Taking advantage of the confusion, sailors from Bari in Apulia seized the remains of the saint over the objections of the Orthodox monks. Returning to Bari, they brought the remains with them and cared for them. The remains arrived in May 1087. In some versions of this account, those taking the relics are characterized as thieves or pirates; in others they are said to have taken them in response to a vision wherein Saint Nicholas himself appeared and commanded that his relics be moved in order to preserve them from the impending Muslim conquest.
Some observers have reported seeing myrrh exude his relics, which is said to have miraculous powers of heaving. Vials of myrrh from his relics have been taken all over the world for centuries, and can still be obtained from his church in Bari. Currently at Bari, there are two churches at his shrine, one Roman Catholic and one Orthodox.
According to a local legend, some of his remains were brought by three pilgrims to a church in what is now Nikolausberg in the vicinity of the city of Göttingen, Germany, giving the church and village its name.
There is also a Venetian legend (preserved in the Morosini Chronicle) that most of the relics were actually taken to Venice (where a great church to St. Nicholas, the patron of sailors, was built on the Lido), only an arm being left at Bari. This tradition was overturned in the 1950s when a scientific investigation of the relics in Bari revealed a largely intact skeleton.
It is said that in Myra the relics of Saint Nicholas each year exuded a clear watery liquid which smelled like rose water, called manna (or myrrh), which is believed by the faithful to possess miraculous powers. After the relics were brought to Bari, they continued to do so, much to the joy of the new owners. Even up to the present day, a flask of manna is extracted from the tomb of Saint Nicholas every year on Dec. 6 by the clergy of the basilica. The myrrh is collected from a sarcophagus which is located in the basilica vault and can be purchased in the shop nearby.
On Dec. 28, 2009, the Turkish Government formally requested the return of St Nikolaos's bones to Turkey from the Italian government. Turkish authorities have cited the fact that Saint Nicolas himself wanted to be buried at his birthplace. They also state that his remains were illegally removed from Turkey.
Another legend tells how a terrible famine struck an island he was visiting. A malicious butcher lured three little children into his house, where he slaughtered and butchered them, placing their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Saint Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, not only saw through the butcher's horrific crime but also resurrected the three boys from the barrel by his prayers.
In St. Nicholas’ most famous exploit, a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the poor man's plight, Nicholas decided to help him but being too modest to help the man in public (or to save the man the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to his house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man's house.
One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throw the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes “of age." Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung
During a great famine that the Bishop of Myra experienced, a ship was in the port at anchor, loaded with wheat for the Emperor in Byzantium. He invited the sailors to unload a part of the wheat to help in time of need. The sailors refused the request, because the wheat had to be weighed accurately and delivered to the Emperor. Only when Nicholas promised them that they would not take any damage for their assistance, the sailors agreed. When they arrived later in the capital, they made a surprising find. The weight of the load had not changed. The removed wheat in Myra supplied the town for two full years and could even be used for sowing.
Unlike most saints, whose bodies were broken up for relics, St. Nicholas is unique in that most of his bones have been preserved in one spot: his grave crypt in Bari. The archdiocese of Bari allowed one scientific survey of the bones. In the late 1950s, during a restoration of the chapel, it allowed a team of hand-picked scientists to photograph and measure the contents of the crypt grave. In the summer of 2005, the report of these measurements was sent to a forensic laboratory in England. The review of the data revealed that the historical St. Nicholas was barely five feet tall and had a broken nose.
The story of Saint Nicholas, and his helper, Black Peter, who has been replaced by the more politically correct elves of the North Pole, goes on for about fifty pages, compared to the simpler story of the birth of the savior in whose name he performed these miracles. So here’s what I make of the legend of Santa Claus, or Saint Nicholas.
Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra, was born to wealthy parents in the town of Myra on the southern coast of Turkey. His parents died of the plague when was he was young and he was raised by an uncle, who was a bishop. Nicholas devoted himself to the church at a young age and vowed to donate all his inherited wealth to the poor, particularly orphaned children, to whom he related.
He traveled a great deal on his missions, and saved the lives of some sailors during a storm, even though he was small in stature. His journeys brought him to Spain, where he discovered a young Moroccan, Muslim boy in a Catholic orphanage there. The boy was apprenticed in carpentry, and made wooden toys for the other children in the orphanage. He also protected the younger children from the cruelty of older children (in his role as Saint Nicholas, Black Peter was given the task of whipping naughty children. Modern parents would be shocked, but naughty didn’t just mean putting ants in the sugar bowl. Children in the Dark Ages could be pretty savage and they weren’t above stealing, vandalism, and mutilating and torturing animals and playmates – pretty naughty.) Moved by the boy’s generosity and kindness, Nicholas took him on as an altar boy and gave him the name of Peter. In gratitude, the boy Peter converted to Christianity and vowed to serve his patron freely.
The legend of Nicholas’ miracles and generosity - resurrecting three children from death at the hands of a murderous butcher during a famine; feeding the starving with borrowed wheat; paying the dowry of three impoverished girls who would have been sold into slavery; putting gold coins into the shoes of a poor children – grew, even though Nicholas preferred anonymity. The father of the three girls hid in wait to learn the identity of their benefactor.
With the advent of the Muslim empire, Nicholas’ final wish was that his remains be removed to a safer location. Three monks, probably with the help of Nicholas’ assistant, Peter, carried his body to the Italian town of Bari in the midst of a riot when they wouldn’t be noticed, where they are buried to this day. Other legends say that his remains were carried to Venice, Germany (where the town was renamed after him, Nikolasberg), and even Ireland. * Source: Wikipedia
Legends say that Nicholas traveled extensively, possibly to Germany, where his name is held in the greatest reverence. But really, he is beloved worldwide. In Germany, the legends of the elves grew from a misunderstanding of the Greek world “alf” for “white” (his robes – and his horse – were white_ and the German word for a brownie ,“elf”, a small creature blamed for household mischief in the middle of the night, who could only be assuaged by a plate of cookies and a glass of milk. The tales that reached Germany were of a man in white (and red) and a brown man who made toys.
The modern, American Santa Claus has undergone a transformation over the centuries. Black Peter has been replaced by little elves in green and red. Nicholas’ white horse has changed into eight tiny reindeer better able to land on the slanted roofs of the wintry north. In Europe, the children greet Saint Nicholas on his feast day, Dec. 6th. In America, children don’t celebrate the Feast Day, but rather, greet the guy in red and white right after Thanksgiving.
Some churches in America (except for the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches) tend to resent Santa Claus, feeling he eclipses the savior whose birth we’re supposed to be celebrating. The Protestant churches, in fact, don’t recognize saints at all. To them, there’s only one hero.
They should understand, though, that Saint Nicholas was totally devoted to the service of Jesus Christ. There is no battle between the two figures; only one the purists and comedians have created. It is said that for those who gain entrance into Heaven, they are granted a particular task for eternity. Since forever is a long time, it had better be something you love doing. After all, what are we supposed to do in Heaven; just sit around floating on clouds all day?
Evidently, Saint Nicholas was granted the eternal wish of befriending children (and sailors) and brining the toys they so love. As we mature, we think we outgrow the notion of having a mythical figure bring us toys and presents and wonderful things, which is as it should be. Somewhere close to adulthood, we finally figure it out – that ‘tis better to give than to receive – and that’s when we rediscover Santa Claus and that we can tell our children in all honesty, that yes, Nathaniel, Alexa, Noah, Keith, Bailey, Aiden, Victoria, Matthew, Jessica, Allison, Rachel, Brian, Sarah, John, and Virginia – there IS a Santa Claus.
I promised a musical history. But first you have to believe in Santa before you can sing about him. I have a Christmas songbook for piano with a song entitled, “I Believe in Santa Claus,” written in 1950. But apparently it was never recorded. I’ve been through ten pages of Google and had to finally get the lyrics from the songbook (and revise one line a bit).
Some of the songs with Santa in the title are: Here Comes Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Santa Baby. He also appears in Up On the Rooftop, and he’s the star of the tale, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”
Small children want to believe the magic, but get confused when they see so many Santas, in every store, mall, party, and sidewalk. But don’t worry about it; that just makes the magic more wonderful. The best part for parents is when they open their presents on Christmas morning (well for those of you have kids) and joy lights their faces. We may make a little too much of the materialism. As long as you have a creche nearby, or take your children to church to teach them what it’s really all about – and teach them who Santa really was, there’ll be nothing wrong with your child taking delight in that bright red fire truck or hugging that sweet dolly.
Reality will come in time, and that will be magical, too, once they get past the political correctness. The Roman Catholic Church no longer recognizes Saint Nicholas as a saint. In 1962, in the Vatican II pact, the Catholic made an agreement to desanctify him and erase history. Read the section about the remains of Saint Nicholas again. He had a broken nose. Before Vatican II, the story was that Myra was overrun by Muslims and they, knowing he was wealthy, robbed and murdered Saint Nicholas. What’s more the name of the town was changed several times, burying the truth in obscurity. The story goes that the Muslims also imprisoned Nicholas and Peter.
The Catholic Church may find it expedient to no longer believe in Santa Claus (in Holland, the name is SinterKlaas (sinter – saint; klaas, an abbreviation of the name “Nicholas”). The Muslims insisted that no one could prove Muslims had murdered him, though apparently his followers knew enough, knew the Muslim raiders were coming and moved his body. Anybody could have robbed him, only no one needed to because he gave his money so freely. Apparently, if the Vatican wanted peace, they had to erase Saint Nicholas, as well as Saint Valentine, Saint Hillary, and some other saints, from their annals. His murder, particularly on what were probably religious grounds, is the third part of sainthood. Without it, without that martyrdom, they’re just another good Christian.
This is how myths are created – by distorting and burying the truth, and putting lies in their place. This is how evil people slowly destroy faith. But never mind, Saint Nicholas. The Greek Orthodox Church still believes in you and so do we.