The Real Santa Claus

The Real Santa Claus

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Muscular and Generous, A Saint For Our Time

The Real Santa Claus

By Ed Masters

If your name is Nick or Nicole, there are a few things you should know. First, your name means “Victory of the people” from the Greek Nike (victory) and Laos (people). Second, you’re in good company. There have been many saints with this illustrious name: Nicholas of Flue, Nicholas of Tolentino, Nicholas Owen and Pope Saint Nicholas the Great to name a few. Finally, you’re named for Santa Claus — St. Nicholas of Myra and Bari – and your Saint’s feast day is December 6, kept by both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches.

This is quite a distinction. The real St. Nicholas was a legendary figure – a muscular and generous Christian bishop — in his own time. He saved girls from sexual slavery, raised people from the dead, was thrown into prison for his Christianity, and even punched a famous heretic at a church council. His deeds and miracles put him head and shoulders above any red-suited jolly old elf with a sleigh full of toys and flying reindeer – though of course the red-and-white suit derive from the traditional colors of a Christian bishop’s robes.

The real St. Nicholas was a legendary figure – a muscular and generous Christian bishop — in his own time. He saved girls from sexual slavery, raised people from the dead, was thrown into prison for his Christianity, and even punched a famous heretic at a church council.

Early Years

Nicholas was born to wealthy parents in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) around the year 260 A.D. His parents had long been childless and their prayers for a child were finally answered. Tragically, they were not to enjoy the company of their son for long, as Nicholas was orphaned while still a young child.

Even then, he showed signs that his future was one that was to be filled with holiness and sanctity. He was said to have had little interaction with his peers, preferring to dedicate himself to learning and holiness. From the beginning, he disdained worldly pleasures, preferring to use his inherited wealth to help the less fortunate, the innocent and the oppressed.

The legends that have come down through the ages about Nicholas reveal how he became known as the Patron Saint of children, sailors, brides, bankers, and the poor.

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SOURCE: CATHOLIC MEMES

Nicholas's deeds and miracles place him head and shoulders above any red-suited jolly old elf with a sleigh full of toys and flying reindeer – though of course Santa's red-and-white suit derive from the traditional colors of a Christian bishop’s robes.

Nicholas Stories

Murder, corruption and decadence characterized the times in which Nicholas lived. One grisly story that comes down to us was of three young men murdered and their bodies thrown into a barrel of brine. This occurred not long after Nicholas was ordained a priest, and the legends say that he raised the young men to life.

Another story says that a poor Christian widower with three daughters had no  dowry to offer any prospective husbands, thereby all but guaranteeing they would be sold into slavery. St. Nicholas threw bags of gold through the man's window — or placed gold coins in their shoes,depending on the source — thereby saving his daughters from a lifetime of sexual bondage.

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St. Nicholas threw bags of gold through the man's window — or placed gold coins in their shoes, depending on the source — thereby saving his daughters from a lifetime of sexual bondage.

As a young man, Nicholas made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land; like many young men of the times, he longed to escape the rampant corruption around him and decided to spend the rest of his life in solitude as a hermit. But God had other ideas. He inspired Nicholas to go to Myra, where the bishops had gathered to elect a successor to the recently deceased bishop. In a vision, God revealed to one bishop that they should choose the first man who would enter the church the next morning, whose name would be Nicholas.

Nicholas, knowing nothing of this, entered the church. When asked his name,  he was led into the assembly of bishops and it was related to him all that had happened. In spite of his protestations, the bishops consecrated him. This turned out to be a great choice – an exemplary bishop, Nicholas visited the poor, prisoners, the sick, and all the churches of his diocese. He stoutly encouraged  his people to remain faithful in spite of the terrible anti-Christian persecutions they had to endure under Licinius and Diocletian.

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Wonderworker Studios

As  bishop, Nicholas stoutly encouraged  his people to remain faithful in spite of the terrible anti-Christian persecutions they had to endure under Licinius and Diocletian.

Nicholas and the Emperor

For his pains, Nicholas was thrown into a dungeon. After many years, he was released when Constantine became Emperor and legalized Christianity. When the new Emperor ordered the demolition of pagan temples and idols, Nicholas assisted with great zeal and didn't rest until all pagan temples and idols were eradicated from his Diocese.

But he was no sycophant of the powerful Emperor – and he apparently had the same power of bilocation and soul-reading attributed to St. Padre Pio in the 20th Century. In 325 A.D, when Constantine was set to execute three soldiers on false charges, the hapless prisoners beseeched God to send Nicholas to help them. The Saint – who was attending the Council of Nicea at the time — appeared before Constantine and threatened him with Divine vengeance if the sentences were not overturned. Apparently, Nicholas also appeared before the lying accuser, who immediately recanted. The prisoners were set free, and the Emperor sent many rich gifts to Nicholas.

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NICHOLAS STAYS THE EXECUTION OF CONSTANTINE'S SOLDIERS by Ilya Repin, Ukrainian-born Russian Realist Painter, 1844-1930

When Constantine was set to execute three soldiers on false charges, the hapless prisoners beseeched God to send Nicholas to help them. The Saint – who was attending the Council of Nicea at the time — appeared before Constantine and threatened him with Divine vengeance if the sentences were not overturned.

In fact, another story tells us that at the same Council (the origin of the ‘Nicene Creed’ that Catholics recite at Mass) Nicholas became so irate at the heresy of Arius that he punched Arius in the presence of the Emperor Constantine and all assembled. In punishment, Nicholas was stripped of his bishop's garments, chained, and thrown into prison. Jesus and Mary were said to have appeared to him in prison and given him the Book of the Gospels and omophorion (Editor’s Note: In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic liturgical tradition, the omophor is the distinguishing vestment of a bishop and the symbol of his spiritual and ecclesiastical authority.)

At the Council of Nicea -the origin of the ‘Nicene Creed’ that Catholics recite at Mass- Nicholas became so irate at the heresy of Arius that he punched him in the presence of the Emperor Constantine and all assembled.

When the prison guard checked on Nicholas in the morning, the Saint was free of chains, dressed as a bishop and reading the Gospels. When Constantine was told of this, Nicholas was released immediately.

During that same Council, sailors who were on their way to the Holy Land encountered a storm and were in danger of being shipwrecked. They called upon St. Nicholas to help them — as stories about his miracles spread even during his lifetime. Nicholas appeared to the sailors and guided their ship to land. When they gave thanks to him, he told them, “My children, give honor to God. I am but a poor sinner.” He then told them of the numerous sins they committed which had been the cause of the near-disaster they experienced and urged them to repent.

It is especially interesting that these remarkable legends should be so persistent, as we’re told that throughout his life Nicholas did most of his good deeds in private, trying his best follow the command of Christ to “do not do your justice before men” and “let your right hand not know what your left hand is doing.”

The Death of a Saint – and More Miracles

As a special boon, God revealed to St. Nicholas the day and hour of his death. Nicholas prepared himself and after a short, intense bout of fever, died in the year 342 A.D. But death would not be the end of his miracles.

Yet another story tells of his intervention on behalf of a couple’s only child, who had been captured by pirates and sold into slavery as the cup-bearer of an Arab ruler. After the boy's parents sought the intercession of St. Nicholas, the boy was taken from his captors in the blink of an eye and restored to his parents.

In the year 1087 A.D., after Myra had been conquered by Muslims, Italian sailors rescued the Saint’s remains to preserve them from being desecrated. His relics are in the church of San Niccolo in Bari and to this day an oil flows with many healing properties, the ‘manna of St. Nicholas’ (‘Manna di San Niccolo’).

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Wonderworker Studios

In the year 1087 A.D., after Myra had been conquered by Muslims, Italian sailors rescued the Saint’s remains to preserve them from being desecrated. His relics are in the church of San Niccolo in Bari and to this day an oil flows with many healing properties, the ‘manna of St. Nicholas’ (‘Manna di San Niccolo’).

At one time St. Nicholas was the most popular Saint in Europe, and his fame stretched from England to Russia, Germany to Greece, and Italy to the Netherlands. More churches were built and named after St. Nicholas at one time than any other saint; there were three hundred in Belgium, thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.

For some Catholics –especially in the Eastern Catholic Churches – December 6 is the day when many  give gifts, including gold chocolate coins which are given to children, who place their shoes in front of a fireplace or outside to be filled that morning. A spicy Dutch cookie called a Speculaas cookie is made and eaten this day and shaped into coins, mitres, ships, moneybags and balls — all painted with colorful icing.

For all of us, it's also a good idea to display a holy card with St. Nicholas' image on his Feast Day. (Or to share his image and this story on Facebook!)    

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For some Catholics –especially in the Eastern Catholic Churches – December 6 is the day when many  give gifts, including gold chocolate coins which are given to children, who place their shoes in front of a fireplace or outside to be filled that morning.

PHOTO CREDIT: Lucy Flamiatos (Mc Vicker)

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