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270 AD was a LONG time ago!!! The original role model for Santa Claus was born around that time in the city of Myra in what is now Turkey. Even as a young man, Nicholas was a devout Christian. In adult life, he became a Bishop, and then an Archbishop of Myra. Stories abound about his amazing charity, generosity, gentleness, humility, and love. He did not have an easy life as he suffered opposition and even imprisonment for not worshiping the idols of the time. He aided other prisoners to be strong and joyful regardless of the punishments they may receive. Tradition says if you pray to St. Nicholas, he may do miracles for you. As recent as the 1980’s, he is credited with saving the sailors in an ailing Russian submarine.
Probably one of the best-known stories of his benevolence tells of a poor family with three young girls. The father lost his wealth in bad times and could not afford a dowry for the daughters to have a suitable husband. He feared he may have to sell his daughters. Bishop Nicholas heard of this dilemma. The tale goes that he secretly thew a bag of money into a window of the house around the time when the eldest needed a husband. Again, when the time came for the next two to be married, a second, then a third package of money was tossed through the window. The third time, the father stayed up waiting for the money to appear to find out who was the benefactor. The father wanted to share with the townspeople what Father Nicholas had done, but Nicholas implored the father not to tell until after his death. Christ calls us to selfless giving, and St. Nicholas is the ultimate model.
This man of supreme love, generosity, and Christian fervor, who loved giving in secret, became the prototype of Saint Nicholas the forerunner of our Santa Claus figure of today. We revere this man, who could only do good, and even used miraculous methods to accomplish his deeds. He taught us to give good gifts without needing recognition.
In researching St. Nicholas, I learned several of our customs come from him:
- Stockings hung over the fireplace. In one version of the story of the three maidens, the young woman had hung her stocking to dry over the fire. When St. Nicholas tossed the package of money through the window, it landed in a stocking!
- An orange or tangerine in the toe of a stocking. I thought a stocking included an orange or tangerine because, a century or more ago, it was a very special treat to have that fruit if you didn’t live in a climate where orange or tangerine trees grow. In fact, it may have been the only gift as such a fruit was expensive. My research revealed the orange or tangerine symbolizes the bag of gold tossed into the toe of the stocking. A personal story: my daughter, Karin, did not like oranges or tangerines, but Santa always gave her one. As she was outgrowing the concept of a magical Santa, the fact of the orange in her stocking kept her believing a bit longer, because she knew her parents wouldn’t give her a fruit she didn’t like!
- Candy canes represent a shepherd’s staff which the shepherds would have used as they “made haste” to the manger. They also replicate the staff Bishop Nicholas carried, called a crozier, with the hook at the top. A bishop carried such the crozier to indicate his position as shepherd of his people.
- Gifts are delivered at night. Santa comes under the cover of darkness when all are asleep, because St. Nicholas delivered his gifts in secret at nighttime.
- St. Nicholas showed concern for the needy — he gifted those in need without expecting anything in return. Churches, service organizations, and individuals make a special effort to provide food and gifts to the needy at Christmastime. My Rotary Club will soon meet to assemble the 100 bicycles we purchased to give to needy children through a local mission. Giving gladdens the heart!
In the words of St. Nicholas of Myra which he took from James 1:17: “The giver of every good and perfect gift has called upon us to mimic His giving, by grace, through faith, and this is not of ourselves.”
He died on December 6, 343 AD. We still revere this day as St. Nicholas’ Day. Some celebrate with gift giving. Thank God for St. Nicholas and Santa Claus!
Listen to Steve Green singing “Every Perfect Gift Comes From Above.”