HELLO DARLINGS !!!
YOU KNOW I THOUGHT AS WE'RE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PRE XMAS SEASON IT MIGHT BE NICE TO GIVE SOME INTERESTING INFO ON THIS LOVELY OLD CHAP WITH THE LONG BEARD AND THE RED OUTFIT: YES !! GOOD OLD SANTA CLAUS !! I SUPPOSE THAT MANY OF US HARDLY KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE ORIGIN OF SANTA AND THE MYTHS THAT DEVELOPED AROUND HIM IN THE COURSE OF THE CENTURIES. AS HE PLAYS SUCH A GREAT ROLE IN WINTER AND THE XMAS SEASON IN EUROPE AND THE WESTERN WORLD IN GENERAL, LET'S HAVE A LOOK AT HISTORY.
THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPHS ARE TAKEN FROM THIS SITE:
Santa Claus (also known as Saint Nicholas, Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Santy or simply Santa) is a folk hero in various cultures who distributes gifts to children, normally on Christmas Eve. Each name is a variation of Saint Nicholas, but refers to Santa Claus.
Father Christmas is a well-loved figure in the United Kingdom, and is now interchangeable with Santa Claus, though the two had quite different origins. The term Santa is as widely used and understood by British children as Father Christmas.
A classic image of jolly old Saint Nick.Santa is a variant of a European folk tale based on the historical figure Saint Nicholas, a bishop from present-day Turkey, who supposedly gave presents to the poor. This inspired the mythical figure of Sinterklaas, the subject of a major celebration in the Netherlands (where his alledged birthday is celebrated), which in turn inspired both the myth and the name of Santa Claus.
He forms an important part of the Christmas tradition throughout the Western world as well as in Latin America and Japan and other parts of East Asia.
In many Eastern Orthodox traditions, Santa Claus visits children on New Year's Day and is identified with Saint Basil whose memory is celebrated on that day.
Depictions of Santa Claus also have a close relationship with the Russian character of Ded Moroz ("Grandfather Frost"). He delivers presents to children and has a red coat, fur boots and long white beard. Much of the iconography of Santa Claus could be seen to derive from Russian traditions of Ded Moroz, particularly transmitted into western European culture through his German folklore equivalent, Vдterchen Frost.
Russian Ded MorozConventionally, Santa Claus is portrayed as a kindly, round-bellied, merry, bespectacled white man in a red coat trimmed with white fur, with a long white beard. On Christmas Eve, he rides in his sleigh pulled by flying reindeer from house to house to give presents to children. To enter the house, Santa Claus comes down the chimney and exits through the fireplace. During the rest of the year he lives together with his wife Mrs. Claus and his elves manufacturing toys. Some modern depictions of Santa (often in advertising and popular entertainment) will show the elves and Santa's workshop as more of a processing and distribution facility, ordering and receiving the toys from various toy manufacturers from across the world. His home is usually given as either the North Pole in the United States (Alaska), northern Canada, Korvatunturi in Finnish Lapland, Dalecarlia in Sweden, or Greenland, depending on the tradition and country. Sometimes Santa's home is in Caesarea when he is identified as Saint Basil.
Since most activities associated with Santa Claus are extraordinary, such as delivering presents to all of the believing children in one night, how he squeezes down chimneys, how he enters homes without chimneys, why he never dies, and how he makes reindeer fly, "magic" is usually used to explain his actions.
The modern Santa Claus is thought to be a composite character made up from the merging of quite separate figures.
Ancient Christian origins
St. Nicholas, with his crozier and miter, as he appears on a German holy card.The first of these is Saint Nicholas of Myra, an 4th century AD Christian bishop of Myra in Lycia, a province of Byzantine Anatolia, now in Turkey. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes. He was born at Patara, province of Lycia, Asia Minor. He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. In Europe (more precisely the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Germany) he is still portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes. The relics of St. Nicholas were transported to Bari in southern Italy by some enterprising Italian merchants; a basilica was constructed in 1087 to house them and the area became a pilgrimage site for the devout. Saint Nicholas became revered by many as the patron saint of seamen, merchants, archers, children, prostitutes, pharmacists, lawyers, pawnbrokers, prisoners, the city of Amsterdam and of Russia. In Greece, Saint Nicholas is sometimes substituted for Saint Basil (Vasilis in Greek), a 4th century AD bishop from Caesarea. Also, a few villages in West Flanders, Belgium, celebrate a near identical figure, Sint-Maarten (Saint Martin of Tours).
Odin, the wanderer.Prior to the Germanic peoples' conversion to Christianity, Germanic folklore contained stories about the god Odin (Wodan), who would each year, at Yule, have a great hunting party accompanied by his fellow gods and the fallen warriors residing in his realm. Children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw or sugar, near the chimney for Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir's food with gifts or candy [Siefker, chap. 9, esp. 171-173]. This practice survived in Belgium and the Netherlands after the adoption of Christianity and became associated with Saint Nicholas. Children still place their straw filled shoes at the chimney every winter night, and Saint Nicholas (who, unlike Santa, is still riding a horse) rewards them with candy and gifts. Odin's appearance was often similar to that of Saint Nicholas, being depicted as an old, mysterious man with a beard. (Other features, like the absense of one eye, are not found in Saint Nicholas.) This practice in turn came to America via the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, New York and New York City prior to the British seizure in the 17th century, and evolved into the hanging of socks or stockings at the fireplace.
Another early folk tale, originating among the Germanic tribes, tells of a holy man (sometimes Saint Nicholas), and a demon (sometimes the Devil, Krampus, or a troll). The story states that the land was terrorized by a monster who at night would slither down the chimneys and slaughter children (disembowelling them or stuffing them up the flue, or keeping them in a sack to eat later). The holy man sought out the demon, and tricked it with blessed or magical shackles (in some versions the same shackles that imprisoned Christ prior to the crucifixion, in other versions the shackles were those used to hold St. Peter or Paul of Tarsus); the demon was trapped and forced to obey the saint's orders. The saint ordered him to go to each house and make amends, by delivering gifts to the children. Depending on the version, the saint either made the demon fulfil this task every year, or the demon was so disgusted by the act of good will that it chose to be sent back to Hell.
A white Dutchman in blackface costume and afro wig as Zwarte PietYet other versions have the demon reform under the saint's orders, and go on to recruit other elves and imps into helping him, thus becoming Santa Claus. In an alternate Dutch version, the saint is aided by Moorish slaves, commonly typified as Zwarte Piet ("Black Peter"). Some tales depict Zwarte Piet beating bad children with a rod or even taking them to Spain (formerly ruled by the Moors) in a sack.
Another form of the above tale in Germany is of the Pelznickel or Belsnickle ("Furry Nicholas") who visited naughty children in their sleep. The name originiated from the fact that the person appeared to be a huge beast since he was covered from head to toe in furs.
The Ghost of Christmas Present, a colorized version of the original illustration by John Leech made for Charles Dickens's novel A Christmas Carol (1843).Pre-modern representations of the gift-giver from church history and folklore merged with the British character Father Christmas to create the character known to Britons and Americans as Santa Claus. Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Britain, and pictures of him survive from that era, portraying him as a well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe. He typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, and was reflected in the "Ghost of Christmas Present" in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol.
The name Santa Claus is derived from Sinterklaas, the Dutch name for the mythical character based on St. Nicholas. He is also known there by the name of Sint Nicolaas which explains the use of the two fairly dissimilar names Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas or St. Nick.
Sinterklaas wears clothing similar to a bishop's. He wears a red miter (a liturgical headdress worn by bishops and abbots) with a 'golden' cross and carries a bishop's staff. The connection with the original bishop of Myra is still evident here. He rides a white horse over rooftops and his helpers climb down chimneys to deposit gifts (sometimes in children's shoes by the fireplace). Sinterklaas arrives from Spain on a steamboat and is accompanied by Zwarte Piet.
Folk tale depiction of Father Christmas riding on a goat. Perhaps an evolved version of the Swedish Tomte.Presents given during this feast are often accompanied by poems, sometimes fairly basic, sometimes quite elaborate pieces of art that mock events in the past year relating to the recipient (who is thus at the receiving end in more than one sense). The gifts themselves may be just an excuse for the wrapping, which can also be quite elaborate. The more serious gifts may be reserved for the next morning. Since the giving of presents is Sinterklaas's job presents are traditionally not given at Christmas in the Netherlands, but commercialism is starting to tap into this market.
In other countries, the figure of Saint Nicholas was also blended with local folklore. As an example of the still surviving pagan imagery, in Nordic countries there is the Yule goat (Swedish julbock), a somewhat startling figure with horns which will deliver the presents on Christmas Eve, and a straw goat is a common Christmas decoration. Later, though, in Sweden and Norway, the gift bringer was seen as identical with the Tomte, or tomtenisse, another folklore creature. In Finland, the Yule goat is joulupukki.
Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus with an illustration for the January 3, 1863, issue of Harper's Weekly.In the Britsh colonies of North America and later the United States, British and Dutch versions of the gift-giver merged further. For example, in Washington Irving's History of New York, Sinterklaas was Americanized into "Santa Claus" but lost his bishop's apparel, and was at first pictured as a thick-bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat. Irving's book was a lampoon of the Dutch culture of New York, and much of this portrait is his joking invention.
Modern ideas of Santa Claus seemingly became canon after the publication of the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (better known today as "The Night Before Christmas") in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823. The poem is ascribed to Clement Clarke Moore, although there is some question as to his authorship. In this poem Santa is established as a heavyset individual with eight reindeer (who are named for the first time). Santa Claus later appeared in various colored costumes as he gradually became amalgamated with the figure of Father Christmas, but red soon became popular after he appeared wearing such on an 1885 Christmas card. Still, one of the first artists to capture Santa Claus' image as we know him today was Thomas Nast, an American cartoonist of the 19th century. In 1863, a picture of Santa illustrated by Nast appeared in Harper's Weekly (it is believed the inspiration for his image came from the Pelznickle). Another popularization came in 1902 in The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Specially designed Christmas labels featuring Santa Claus give a seasonal twist to these Coca-Cola bottles.Images of Santa Claus were further cemented through Haddon Sundblom's depiction of him for The Coca-Cola Company's Christmas advertising. The popularity of the image spawned urban legends that Santa Claus was in fact invented by Coca-Cola. Nevertheless, Santa Claus and Coca-Cola have been closely associated, except for 2005 when Santa was replaced in advertising by Coca-Cola's polar bears.
The image of Santa Claus as a benevolent character became reinforced with its association with charity and philanthropy, particularly organizations such as the Salvation Army. Volunteers dressed as Santa Claus typically became part of fundraising drives to aid needy families at Christmas time.
Some suspect that the depiction of Santa at the North Pole reflected popular opinion about industry at the time. In some images of the early 20th century, Santa was depicted as personally making his toys by hand in a small workshop like a craftsman.
A man dressed up as Santa Claus fundraising for Volunteers of America on the sidewalk of street in Chicago, Illinois, in 1902. He is wearing a mask with a beard attached. DN-0001069, Chicago Daily News negatives collection, Chicago Historical Society.Eventually, the idea emerged that he had numerous elves responsible for making the toys, but the toys were still handmade by each individual elf working in the traditional manner. By the end of the century, the reality of mass mechanized production became more fully accepted by the Western public. That shift was reflected in the modern depiction of Santa's residence—now often humorously portrayed as a fully mechanized production facility, equipped with the latest manufacturing technology, and overseen by the elves with Santa and Mrs. Claus as managers [see Nissenbaum, chap. 2; Belk, 87-100]. Many television commercials depict this as a sort of humorous business, with Santa's elves acting as a sometimes mischievously disgruntled workforce, cracking jokes and pulling pranks on their boss. Santa Claus continues to inspire writers and artists, such as in author Seabury Quinn's 1948 novel Roads. Other additions to early ideas of Santa include Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the ninth reindeer immortalized in a Gene Autry song, written by a Montgomery Ward copywriter. Adding even more to the legend, a current popular comic book series Jingle Belle by writer/cartoonist Paul Dini depicts Santa Claus as a harried father with a rebellious half-human, half-elf teenage daughter.
Other possible origins
American mycologist Jonathan Ott suggests that many of the modern features attributed to Santa Claus may somehow be derived from those of the Kamchatkan or Siberian shaman. Apparently, during the midwinter festival (holiday season) in Siberia (near the north pole), the shaman would enter a yurt (home) through the shangrak (chimney), bringing with him a sack of fly agaric mushrooms (presents) to give to the inhabitants. This type of mushroom is brightly colored red and white, like Santa Claus, though the relevance of this is questionable. The mushrooms were often hung (to dry) in front of the fireplace, much like the stockings of modern-day Christmas. Furthermore, the mushrooms were associated with reindeer who were known to eat them and become intoxicated. Reindeer are also associated with the shaman, and like Santa Claus, many people believed that the shaman could fly.
Santa Claus rituals
Several rituals have developed around the Santa Claus figure that are normally performed by children hoping to receive gifts from him.
Christmas Eve rituals
In the United States, the tradition is to leave Santa a glass of milk and cookies; in Britain, he is given sherry and mince pies instead.
British and American children also leave out a carrot for Santa's reindeer, and were traditionally told that if they are not good all year round, that they will receive a lump of coal in their stockings, although this practice is now considered archaic. Children following the Dutch custom for sinterklaas will "put out their shoe" — that is, leave hay and a carrot for his horse in a shoe before going to bed — sometimes weeks before the sinterklaas avond. The next morning they will find the hay and carrot replaced by a gift; often, this is a marzipan figurine. Naughty children were once told that they would be left a roe (a bundle of sticks) instead of sweets, but this practice has been discontinued.
Writing letters to Santa Claus has been a Christmas tradition for children for many years. These letters normally contain wishlists of toys and assertions of good behavior. Interestingly, some social scientists have found that boys and girls write different types of letters. Girls generally write more polite, longer (although they do not request more), and express more expressions of the nature of Christmas in their letters than in letters written by boys. Girls also request gifts for other people on a more frequent basis [Otnes, Kim, and Kim, 20-21].
Many postal services allow children to send letters to Santa Claus pleading their good behavior and requesting gifts; these letters may be answered by postal workers or other volunteers. Canada Post has a special postal code for letters to Santa Claus: H0H 0H0 (see: Ho ho ho), and since 1982 over 13,000 Canadian postal workers have volunteered to write responses. Sometimes children's charities answer letters in poorer communities or from children's hospitals in order to give them presents that they would not otherwise receive.
Christian opposition to Santa Claus
Excerpt from Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.Despite Santa Claus's mixed Christian roots, he has become a secular representation of Christmas. As such, a small number of primarily fundamentalist Christian churches dislike the secular focus on Santa Claus and the materialist focus that present-giving gives to the holiday. Such a condemnation of Santa Claus is not a twentieth century phenomenon, but originated among some Protestant groups of the 16th century and was prevalent among the Puritans of 17th century England and America banned the holiday as either pagan or Roman Catholic. Following the English Civil War, under Oliver Cromwell's government Christmas was banned. Following the Restoration of the monarchy and Puritans were out of power in England, the ban on Christmas was satirized in works such as Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Old Father Christmas; Together with his Clearing by the Jury (1686) [Nissenbaum, chap. 1]. Rev. Paul Nedergaard, a clergyman in Copenhagen, Denmark, drew the ire of Danish citizens in 1958 when he declared Santa to be a "pagan goblin" after Santa's image was used on fundraising materials for a Danish welfare organization [Clar, 337]. One prominent American denomination that refuses to celebrate Santa Claus or Christmas for similar reasons are the Jehovah's Witnesses, but some Christians of all stripes have oppositions to Santa Claus of some sort. Some Christians would prefer that the focus be given on the actual birth of Jesus. Some parents are uncomfortable about "lying" to their children about the existence of Santa. Some parents worry that their children might think that if they were deceived by their parents about Santa Claus, they might be deceiving them about God's existence as well. While these viewpoints of do not represent the majority of Christians, their comments have drawn the attention of critics such as the fictional Landover Baptist Church, whose website satirizes and parodies this viewpoint.
THE HISTORICAL PERSON "SAINT NICHOLAS"
Saint Nicholas is the common name for Saint Nicholas of Myra
, who lived in 4th century Byzantine Lycia, (modern Turkey), who had a reputation for secret gift-giving. This is as much as is generally known about him in the West.
This historical character was the inspiration for a mythical figure known as Nikolaus in Germany and Sinterklaas in the Netherlands and Flanders, which in turn was the inspiration for the myth of Santa Claus. Sinterklaas (a contracted form of Sint Nicolaas) is a major celebration in the Netherlands (see below). Among Orthodox Christians, he is remembered with more reverence and less frivolity.
Saint Nicholas is revered by many as the patron saint of seamen, merchants, archers, children, prostitutes, pharmacists, lawyers, pawnbrokers, prisoners, the city of Amsterdam and of Russia.
Nicholas the clergyman
Nicholas of Myra (also Nikolaus) in Lycia, Asia Minor, (lived c. 270 - 345/352) was a 4th century bishop and is a Christian saint. His feast day is December 6, presumably the date of his death. In the Netherlands 5 December is known as his feast: this is Sinterklaasavond, or St. Nicholas' Eve. Among Christians, he is also known as the "Wonderworker". Several acts of kindness and miracles are attributed to him. Historical accounts often confuse him with the later Nicholas of Sion.
Nicholas was born in Asia Minor during the 3rd century at Patara in the province of Lycia,, at a time when the region was Hellenistic in its culture and outlook. Nicholas became bishop of the city of Myra. He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. He is said to have been born to relatively affluent Christian parents in Patara, Lycia, Asia Minor, Roman Empire where he also received his early schooling. He came to Myra to continue his studies. A paternal uncle of his introduced him to the local bishop. The latter is said to have seen potential to the youth and took Nicholas under his patronage. Nicholas received his ordination as a priest at an early age. When his parents died Nicholas still received his inheritance but is said to have given it away in charity.
Nicholas' early activities as a priest are said to have occurred during the reign of co-ruling Roman Emperors Diocletian (reigned 284 - 305) and Maximian (reigned 286 - 305) from which comes the estimation of his age. Diocletian issued an edict in 303 authorising the systematic persecution of Christians across the Empire. Following the abdication of the two Emperors on May 1, 305 the policies of their successors towards Christians were different. In the Western part of the Empire Constantius Chlorus (reigned 305 - 306) put an end to the systematic persecution upon receiving the throne. In the Eastern part Galerius (reigned 305 - 311) continued the persecution until 311 when he issued a general edict of toleration from his deathbed. The persecution of 303 - 311 is considered to be the longest in the history of the Empire. Nicholas survived this period although his activities at the time are uncertain.
Following Galerius' death his surviving co-ruler Licinius (reigned 307 - 324) mostly tolerated Christians. As a result their community was allowed to further develop, and the various bishops who acted as their leaders managed to concentrate religious, social and political influence as well as wealth in their hands. In many cases they acted as the heads of their respective cities. It is apparently in this period that Nicholas rose to become bishop of Myra. Judging from tradition he was probably well-loved and respected in his area mostly as a result of his charitable activities. As with other bishops of the time, Nicholas' popularity would serve to ensure his position and influence during and after this period.
The destruction of several pagan temples is also attributed to him, among them one temple of Artemis (also known as Diana). Because the celebration of Diana's birth is on December 6, some authors have speculated that this date was deliberately chosen for Nicholas' feast day to overshadow or replace the pagan celebrations.
Nicholas is also known for coming to the defence of the falsely accused, often preventing them from being executed, and for his prayers on behalf of sailors and other travellers. The popular veneration of Nicholas as a saint seems to have started relatively early. Justinian I, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (reigned 527 - 565) is reported to have built a temple (i.e. a church building) in Nicholas's honour in Constantinople, the Roman capital of the time.
Bishop Nicholas at the First Ecumenical Council
In 324 Licinius was defeated in a war against his Western co-ruler Constantine I of the Roman Empire (reigned 306 - 337). The end of the war found the Roman Empire unified under the rule of Constantine. In place of tolerance his policies towards Christians consisted of active support. Under his patronage the Christian church experienced an age of prosperity. But the relative peace of his reign brought to the forefront the internal conflict within contemporary Christianity. One of the apparent main reasons of this conflict was the failure to agree to a commonly accepted concept about God in general and Jesus in particular. At this times the teachings of Arius in Alexandria, Egypt were gaining popular support but also attracting great opposition. They would form the basis of Arianism. Emerging fanaticism in both opposing factions only resulted in spreading tumult across the Empire.
Deciding to address the problem as a matter of the state, Constantine called the First Council of Nicaea which also was the first Ecumenical council in 325. The number of attendants at the council is uncertain with Eusebius of Caesarea reporting as few as 250 and Athanasius of Alexandria as many as 318. In any case Nicholas is usually counted among them and was noted as an opponent of Arianism.
A later writer claimed that after Arius had presented his case against Jesus' divinity to the Council, Nicholas hit Arius in the face out of indignation. Nicholas was kicked out of the Council for this offence, and jailed as well. However, according to this account, that night the Virgin Mary appeared in a vision to many of the bishops of the Council, telling them to forgive Nicholas, for he had done it out of love for her Son. They released Nicholas and allowed him back into the process the next day.
The council lasted from May 20 to June 19, 325 and resulted in the declaration of the Nicene Creed and the formal condemnation of Arianism. The books of Arius and his followers were condemned to be burned but the execution of this decision was left at the hands of each bishop for their respective territories. To what point this decision was followed remains uncertain.
Following this apparent victory to his faction Nicholas returned to Myra. He is applauded by later Christian writers for keeping Myra free of Arianism. But the decisions of the council failed to stop the spread of Arianism. In fact the tides soon turned and in his later years Arianism managed to win favour with Constantine. In fact Constantine was baptised by Eusebius of Nicomedia, an Arian bishop who had also attended the council, shortly before his death on May 22, 337. Constantine was succeeded by his three surviving sons: Constantine II of the Roman Empire (reigned 337 - 340), Constantius II (reigned 337 - 361) and Constans (reigned 337 - 350). Constantius originally received the Eastern part of the Empire but the death of his brothers left the entire Empire under his control. During his reign he strongly favoured Arianism by seeking to place Arian bishops in most positions. There is no indication that Nicholas was affected by these policies and he remained in his position till his death. This lack of disturbance by the Arian Emperor has been seen as indicating the strong support Nicholas had gained among the people of his territory. According to this reasoning not even Constantius would risk a possible revolt by removing a popular bishop.
Abduction of his relics
On August 26, 1071 Romanus IV, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire (reigned 1068 - 1071) faced Sultan Alp Arslan of the Seljuk Turks (reigned 1059 - 1072) 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. It would regain its control over Asia Minor during the reign of Alexius I Comnenus, (reigned 1081 - 1118). But early in his reign Myra was overtaken by the Islamic invaders. Taking advantage of the confusion sailors from Bari, Italy seized the remains of the saint over the objections of the Orthodox monks then caring for them. Returning to Bari they brought the remains with them. The remains arrived on May 9, 1087. Some observers have reported seeing myrrh exude from these relics.
There is now a Greek chapel in place at Bari for Eastern Orthodox liturgies for pilgrims of that faith, so that nobody is excluded from the veneration. Turkey continues to demand the return of the relics.
Formal veneration of the saint
Among the Greeks and Italians he is a favourite of sailors, fishermen, ships and sailing. As such he has become over time the patron saint of several cities maintaining harbours. In centuries of Greek folklore, Nicholas was seen as "The Lord of the Sea", often described by modern Greek scholars as more or less a christianised version of Poseidon. In modern Greece, he is still easily among the most recognisable saints and December 6 finds many cities celebrating their patron saint. He is also the patron saint of all of Greece.
In addition, he is celebrated as a great gift-giver in several Western European countries. His reputation for gift giving comes partly from a story of three young women who were too poor to afford a dowry for their marriages: as each reached a marriageable age, Nicholas surreptitiously threw a bag of gold into the house at night. Some versions of the legend say that the girls' father, trying to discover their benefactor, kept watch on the third occasion, but Nicholas dropped the third bag down the chimney instead. For his helping the "financially challenged", St. Nicholas is the patron saint of pawnbrokers; the three gold balls traditionally hung outside a pawnshop are symbolic of the three sacks of gold. People then began to suspect that he was behind a large number of other anonymous gifts to the poor, using the inheritance from his wealthy parents. After he died, people in the region continued to give to the poor anonymously, and such gifts were still often attributed to St. Nicholas. It should be noted perhaps that a nearly identical story is attributed by Greek folklore to Basil of Caesarea. Basil's feast day on January 1 is also considered a time of exchanging gifts.
Due to modern association with Christmas, Saint Nicholas is a patron saint of Christmas, as well as pawnbrokers (see above). He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Eastern Roman Emperors, who protected his relics in Bari.
St Nicholas, the patron saint of Russian merchants. Fresco by Dionisius from the Ferapontov Monastery.The holy person of St. Nicholas is a popular subject portrayed on countless Eastern Orthodox icons, particularly Russian ones.
"Icons are quite literally meant to be 'Windows Into Heaven' and to instill in the viewer an attitude of prayerful reflection on the Divine. In Russia icons were not only displayed in churches, but are given the place of honour in many homes, thus serving as a daily reminder to live in strict accordance with Christian virtue, values and duties." (Source: The InstaPLANET Cultural Universe).
Saint Nicholas the festive gift-giver
Saint Nicholas Day is a festivity for children in much of Europe related to surviving legends of the saint, and particularly his reputation as a bringer of gifts. The American and British Santa Claus derives from this festivity, the name 'Santa Claus' being a degeneration of the Dutch word Sinterklaas.
Some elements of this part of the Saint Nicholas tradition could be traced back to the Germanic god Wodan (Odin). The appearance is similar to some portrayals of this god. In the Saint Nicholas tradition in the Netherlands he rides a horse over the rooftops, and this may be derived from Odin's riding through the sky. Also his assistants, the Zwarte Pieten ('Black Peters') may be a remnant of the raven that accompanied Wodan. It may also be a reference to African slaves.
The history of the festive Saint Nicholas celebration is complex and reflects conflicts between Protestantism and Catholicism. Since Nicholas was a canonised saint, Martin Luther replaced the festival that had become associated with the Papacy with a "Christkind" (Christ child) celebration on Christmas Eve. The Nicholas celebrations still remain a part of tradition among many Protestants, albeit on a much lower scale than Christmas. The Protestant Netherlands, however, retain a much larger Saint Nicholas tradition. Many Catholics, on the other hand, have adopted Luther's Christkind.
Celebration in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary and Luxembourg
In Germany, Nikolaus is usually celebrated on a small scale. Many children put a boot, called Nikolaus-Stiefel, outside their front doors on the night of December 5 to December 6. St. Nicholas fills the boot with gifts, and at the same time checks up on the children to see if they were good. If they were not, they will have charcoal in their boots instead. Sometimes a disguised Nikolaus also visits the children at school or in their homes and asks them if they "have been good" (sometimes ostensibly checking a book for their record), handing out presents on a per-behaviour basis. This has become more lenient in recent decades.
But for many children, Nikolaus also elicited fear, as he was often accompanied by Knecht Ruprecht, who would threaten to beat, or sometimes actually eat the children for misbehaviour. Knecht Rupert furthermore was equipped with goatlegs. In Switzerland, where he is called Schmutzli, he would threaten to put bad children in a sack and take them back to the Black Forest. In other accounts he would throw the sack into the river, drowning the naughty children within. These traditions were implemented more rigidly in Catholic countries such as Austria. In highly Catholic regions, the local priest was informed by the parents about their children's behaviour and would then personally visit the homes in the traditional Christian garment and threaten them with rod-beatings. In parts of Austria, Krampusse, whom local tradition says are Nikolaus's helpers (in reality, typically children of poor families), roamed the streets during the festival. They wore masks and dragged chains behind them, even occasionally hurling them towards children in their way. These Krampuslдufe (Krampus runs) still exist, although perhaps less violent than in the past. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Mikulбљ is often also accompanied by an angel who acts as a counterbalance to the ominous Knecht Ruprecht (čert). In Slovenia Saint Nikolaus (Miklavћ) is accompanied by an angel and a devil (parkelj) corresponding austrian Krampuss. In Luxembourg "Kleeschen" is accompanied by the "Houseker" a frightening helper wearing a brown monk's habit.
I AM ROMANTIC YOU KNOW, READY TO MAKE ANY KIND OF FOOLISHNESS FOR LOVE. (DANYA)
A WOMAN KNOWS THE FACE OF THE MAN SHE LOVES AS A SAILOR KNOWS THE OPEN SEA (HONORE DE BALZAC)
THE ARTIST VOCATION IS TO SEND LIGHT INTO THE HUMAN HEART (GEORGE SAND)