How St Nick became Santa Claus
The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back hundreds of years to a fourth-century bishop named St Nicholas. He was born around 280 A.D. near Myra in modern-day Turkey.
Much admired for his piety and kindness, Nicholas became the subject of many legends. It is said that he gave away all of his inherited wealth and travelled the countryside helping the poor, feeding the hungry, healing the sick and caring for the oppressed.
One of the best known of Nicholas’ stories is that he saved three poor sisters from being sold into slavery or prostitution by their father by providing them with a dowry so that they could be married.
Over the course of many years, Nicholas’ popularity spread and he became known for his love and care for children. Around him developed the tradition of bearing gifts to children on his feast day on 6 December, which is still a main day for gift giving in much of Europe.
But the ministry of Nicholas extended beyond giving gifts. History tells us that he was persecuted by the Roman authorities and imprisoned for his faith.
Later, when Emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion, Nicholas boldly defended the doctrine of the Trinity at the Council of Nicea.
Dutch settlers brought the legend of St Nicholas, known to them as Sinter Klaas, to America towards the end of the 18th century. As their tradition goes, Sinter Klaas rode a white horse and left gifts in wooden shoes. This story merged with the British character Father Christmas, who dates back at least as far as the 17th century. Sinter Klaas was eventually Americanised to “Santa Claus.”
The tradition of Santa Claus goes back to a simple Christian bishop who loved God and loved people through his spirit of unselfish giving.
As we prepare to celebrate how God gave His Son, Jesus, to bring hope to the world, may we prayerfully consider how we, like Nicholas, can give of ourselves so that the light of Christ can shine forth into the dark places of our world.
Almighty Father, lover of souls, who chose your servant Nicholas to be a bishop in the Church, that he might give freely out of the treasures of your grace: make us mindful of the needs of others and, as we have received, so teach us also to give; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.