From Saint to Santa in 13 centuries

Virginia Daily LifeBy M. Scott Morris

Daily Journal

Today, Santa travels all over the world giving presents to good little children everywhere.

That’s OK.

It’s kind of miraculous.

But Saint Nicholas, who lived in the fourth century, was said to have “restored to life three children who had been chopped up by a butcher and put in a brine tub,” according to the brain trust at britannica.com.

That’s a miracle.

There have been no reports of Santa bringing the dead back to life in recent memory. Then again, our St. Nick might have a legitimate claim on Saint Nicholas’ miracles.

Historians and scholars believe Saint Nicholas is the probable origin of Santa Claus. Not much is known about Nicholas, but parts of his story have been pieced together.

“He was imprisoned during the Roman Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians but was released under the rule of Emperor Constantine the Great,” britannica.com reported.

He was reputed to have done many acts of generosity and kindness for the poor, including giving marriage dowries of gold to three poverty-stricken girls, which saved them from lives as prostitutes.

Christmas Archives: Chronology of Santa Claus (www.christmasarchives.org/santa.html), reported that St. Nicholas’ reputation continued to grow after he died on Dec. 6 sometime around 340 A.D.

An elaborate basilica was built over his tomb in Myra in the sixth century, the archives reported.

On the move

In the 11th century, his remains were stolen by Italian sailors and taken to Bari, Italy. They are currently housed in the basilica of San Nicola.

As the years passed, Nicholas became the patron saint of Russia, Greece, children, sailors, unmarried girls, merchants, pawnbrokers and a host of others.

“Nicholas’ miracles were a favorite subject for medieval artists and liturgical plays, and his traditional feast day was the occasion for the ceremonies of the Boy Bishop, a widespread European custom in which a boy was elected bishop and reigned until Holy Innocents’ Day (Dec. 28),” said britannica.com.

Dutch colonists, who called him Sinterklaas (a Dutch variant of Saint Nicholas), brought the tradition with them to America in the 17th century.

“Sinterklaas was adopted by the country’s English-speaking majority under the name Santa Claus, and his legend of a kindly old man was united with old Nordic folk tales of a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good children with presents,” britannica.com reported.

According to the Christmas Archives, Santa began to show up in department stores in the United States and Canada in the 1870s.

Add a few influences from Norman Rockwell and Coca-Cola advertisements, and the rest, as they say, is Christmas history.

scott.morris@journalinc.com.