St. Nicholas – Sinterklaas – Santa Claus
Children all over the world wait for the Wonderworker who comes each year, around the same period, and brings something for them and sometimes even plays with them. In North America this person is known as Santa Claus; in the Netherlands he may be known as Sinterklaas, but in both cases this is the same person – St. Nicholas.
How did St. Nicholas become “Santa Claus”? The name “Santa Claus” was borrowed from the Dutch “Sinterklaas”which, in turn, was derived from the Greek St. “Nikolaos” (Νικόλαος) and have undergone a series of phonetic elisions and corruptions.
Who is St. Nicholas? St. Nicholas or to be more precise, St. Nicholas of Myra (also known as St. Nicholas the Wonderworker) was a boy born to the rich parents who were pious and helped the poor. They died when Nicholas was a little boy. He was raised by his uncle, a bishop, (also named Nicholas) who tonsured his nephew as a Reader and then consecrated him as a priest. Eventually St. Nicholas became a bishop in Asia Minor in the city of Myra – modern-day Demre, Turkey (hence, St. Nicholas of Myra). Following his parents’ example, when St. Nicholas reached the age to be able to manage his own inheritance left by his parents, he gave it to help the poor.
Why presents and a chimney? According to what we know about the life of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, he performed a lot of miracles (hence, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker) through his faith and did a lot of good deeds. One of them was saving three virgins from prostitution. This is how this happened: one man became so poor that he could not afford dowry for his three daughters. In those times, this meant that the girls would be left with no means to maintain themselves and having no proper employment would have to be reduced to prostitution; and even if they would be very lucky to find a job, most likely people would consider them prostitutes anyway.
St. Nicholas, knowing this man’s situation, and not wanting to become known (because he was humble) and also desiring to save him humiliation of accepting the charity, brought enough money for dowry for all the three maidens and threw it through the chimney of this poor man’s house. According to some accounts, the money got into stockings which were hung to dry at that time.
How is St. Nicholas the Wonderworker feast day observed today? St. Nicholas the Wonderworker feast day is celebrated on the 19th of December in Eastern Christianity or on the 6th of December in Western Christianity (see the post on calendar differences: https://blogonlinguistics.wordpress.com/2014/01/04/christmas-traditions/).
According to the Ukrainian tradition, for example, St. Nicholas is believed to bring presents for obedient children and putting them under their pillow. Concerts are celebrated at Churches in which children preform. St. Nicholas is a part of these celebrations. He typically wears his bishop’s sticharion (a long, sleeved garment) and omophorion (“scarf” worn on the shoulders which symbolizes a lost sheep) and has a white beard. Around this Saint’s feast day, he can be seen in orphanages giving out presents to the most needy.
In brief, Santa Claus is a real person – St. Nicholas. However, many legends surround this person now. Unlike Santa Claus as many know him, St. Nicholas the Wonderworker lived not at the North Pole, but in warm Myra and was not necessarily plump. What is similar, however, and remains unchanged is that this person loves children, helps the poor, works miracles, and does a great many of good deeds through his faith and love.
Happy St. Nicholas Day!