New Delhi: Cometh the Christmas, cometh the Santa Claus. From children to adults, we all except the man with a white beard clad in red dress to arrive with his bag full of gifts. The idea of Santa Claus, so popular today all over the world, was inspired by the lives and works of Saint Nicholas, who is traditionally considered to have passed away on December 6, 343.
Every year on this day, St. Nicholas Day, a feast day is observed. The Bishop of Myra Born in the village of Patara in Asia Minor, which was then under the rule of the Roman Empire, Saint Nicholas lost his wealthy parents to an epidemic when he was still a young boy.
He used his parents’ wealth to help the needy and the poorer sections of the society. He became the Bishop of Myra while he was a young man and became renowned for his generosity. It is believed that the Roman emperor Diocletian tortured St.
Nicholas during the persecution of Christians, but later Constantine the Great released him. After his death, Nicholas was buried in his church at Myra. His shrine became famous by the end of the 6th century.
It is said that in 1087, Italian sailors stole his remains from Myra and took them to Bari in Italy. This act increased the popularity of Nicholas in Europe, and Bari became a popular pilgrimage centre. Nicholas’s relics remain enshrined in the 11th-century Basilica of San Nicola at Bari.
How did he inspire the concept the Santa Claus? Saint Nicholas was famous for his kindness and generosity to poor people and those who were in distress. According to one legend, Nicholas gave bags of gold to the poor father of three girls. In those days, a woman was unlikely to get married without dowry and the lives of the three girls would have been destroyed without the help.
It is said that every time the bags of gold were through an open window, they landed in stockings or shoes. It gave birth to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. One of the oldest stories shows that Nicholas is a protector of children even long after his death.
He once saved the life of Basilios, a boy who was kidnapped from Myra by a band of Arab pirates. The boy was made the personal cupbearer of the emir and one day, Nicholas appeared to the terrified boy and took him back to his home in Myra. Other stories narrate how Nicholas saved numerous people from famine, those who were innocently accused, and much more.
He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Sailors, considering him as their patron saint, carried stories of his favour and made him popular far and wide. The birth of Santa Claus Saint Nicholas lost his popularity after the Reformation in Europe’s Protestant nations.
However, his veneration was still present in Holland, with his legends becoming immortal as Sinterklaas, a Dutch variant of the saint’s name. In the 17th century, the Dutch took the legends of Sinterklaas with them to the American colonies and made them popular in New Amsterdam, which is known today as Saint Nicholas. The English-speaking people, who comprised the majority population in the American colonies, adopted the Sinterklaas.
Saint Nicholas became Santa Claus, a kind old man who rewards good children and punishes naughty children. The image of Santa Claus that emerged in the US in the 19th century became famous all over the world, and the generous old man became the patron of the gift-giving festival of Christmas. .