The origin of Santa Claus, have you heard this one?

sinterklaasHolidays are difficult when you’ve recently lost a loved one. I won’t get a tree this year. I don’t feel anything when I see the lights. I’d really like to just skip Christmas. I do like giving, however. That cheers me up, a bit, so I’ve been helping everyone I can in whatever way seems to be the most meaningful. It is about giving.

While wondering if I can feel any holiday joy this Christmas at all, I ended up doing some research on Santa. I’d heard there was a Saint Nicolas, but I never heard this version below, the one with the stockings. According to National Geographic:

Historians say the character of Santa Claus as we know him today is based off a Christian saint, Saint Nicolas, whose generosity toward children as a Greek bishop led to him being declared a patron saint of children and bringer of gifts. One of St. Nicolas’ most famous acts, which may sound familiar to those who celebrate Christmas, was him saving three sisters from being sold into prostitution by dropping a bag of gold down the indebted family’s chimney so they could pay off their dowries. One of the bags happened to land in one girl’s stocking that had been hung up to dry, according to historian Bill Petro.

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History.com fills in the story a bit more:

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a monk named St. Nicholas. It is believed that Nicholas was born sometime around 280 A.D. in Patara, near Myra in modern-day Turkey. Much admired for his piety and kindness, St. Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick. One of the best known of the St. Nicholas stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married. Over the course of many years, Nicholas’s popularity spread and he became known as the protector of children and sailors. His feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of his death, December 6. This was traditionally considered a lucky day to make large purchases or to get married. By the Renaissance, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint in Europe. Even after the Protestant Reformation, when the veneration of saints began to be discouraged, St. Nicholas maintained a positive reputation, especially in Holland.

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Domestic-Church.com says there are multiple versions of the story and reminds us that without the Dutch, we would likely not have Santa Claus by his current name.

The name ‘Saint Nicholas’ even sounds like ‘San-ta claus,’ especially in the Dutch language. The Dutch veneration of ‘Sinter Klaus’ was brought to North America with the Dutch settlers and eventually became the story of Santa Claus that everyone knows. … Nicholas heard about this family and wanted to help them, but he did not want anyone to know that he was the one who was helping them. The story is told in a few different ways. In one version, he climbed up on their roof three nights in a row and threw gold coins down their chimney so that they would land in the girls’ stockings, which had been hung by the fire to dry. After two of his daughters had been able to marry because of the money mysteriously appearing in their stockings, the father was determined to find out who was helping them, so he hid behind the chimney the next night. Along came Bishop Nicholas with another bag of money. When he was discovered, he asked the father not to tell anyone else, but the father wanted everyone to know what a good and generous man the Bishop Nicholas was, so he told everyone he knew. That is how we have the story and the tradition of stocking full of gifts today.

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Stories are interesting, but what does the historical evidence really say? Stnicholascenter.org says there are several similar ancient accounts.

Some say St. Nicholas existed only in legend, without any reliable historical record. Legends usually do grow out of real, actual events, though they may be embellished to make more interesting stories. Many of the St. Nicholas stories seem to be truth interwoven with imagination. However, the following facts of the life of St. Nicholas could contain some part of historical truth. … Dowries for the poor girls: This story, distinct to Nicholas, can be regarded as historical in its essence. There are three very ancient accounts which only differ in regard to the number of maidens and other detail.

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What did he look like?

St. Nicholas’ remains are buried in the crypt of the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari, Italy. These bones were temporarily removed when the crypt was repaired during the 1950s. At the Vatican’s request, anatomy professor Luigi Martino from the University of Bari, took thousands of minutely-detailed measurements and x-ray photographs (roentgenography) of the skull and other bones. Professor of forensic pathology at the University of Bari, Francesco Introna, knew advancements in diagnostic technique could yield much more from the data gathered in the 1950s. So in 2004 he engaged expert facial anthropologist, Caroline Wilkinson, then at the University of Manchester in England, to construct a model of the saint’s head from the earlier measurements. … Caroline Wilkinson updated her original 2004 work ten years later, in 2014. This new image incorporates the latest 3D interactive technology and facial reconstruction system.

santaface

I know a guy who looks just like the real deal. He used to own a guitar store. Anyway, here’s a video about how they got to this face:

There seem to be some shenanigans going on with his nose if you look at the past icons of St. Nicholas. Perhaps it was just the style back then, that if you are a Saint, you get bigger eyes and a longer, thinner nose.

stnosealis

Anyway, this post is what I’m doing when I should be working on Christmas cards. I don’t know what to say. Perhaps I’ll just sign my name. People will understand.

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