St Nicholas was a real person who lived in the 4th century and became a famous bishop of the church in what is now Turkey. After his death, legends circulated about “miracles” he performed – and these started off the whole Santa Claus business.
St Nicholas – as he was originally known – lived early in the 4th century AD, and he has a colourful story.
He was made bishop of his local city while he was still young and was imprisoned during the last great persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. When a new emperor came to the throne, Nicholas, along with many other Christians, was released from prison.
At the first big council of the church, some 10 years later, Nick landed himself in trouble when he lost his temper during a theological debate and punched a heretic on the jaw. He was sacked from being a bishop for that, but later got his job back. Modern-day Santas have sometimes been arrested for fighting each other in the streets, so maybe this is where they take their example from.
The legends of Nicholas say he performed many miracles, but here’s the story which made its mark on Christmas…
A local family which had once been rich had fallen on hard times. This was bad news for the three daughters, as there was no chance of them getting married while they were poor.
Things got so bad that the father was even thinking of putting his daughters “on the game” to raise some money, when Nicholas got to hear about it. He crept to their house one night and lobbed a small sack of gold through the window. Next morning, the family were overjoyed to find the money, which meant that one of the daughters could be married.
Nicholas repeated his gold-throwing trick the next night, so that the second daughter could be married, but on the third night, he found the window was closed. So he climbed up onto the roof and dropped the gold down the chimney, where it landed in the socks the family had left to dry by the fireplace.
In a darker story, Nicholas stopped at a roadside inn for the night and discovered a horrifying secret. The landlord had killed three young boys and put them in a barrel so they could be sold as meat for pies. Nicholas realised what had happened, opened the barrel and called the three boys out – and miraculously, they emerged, alive again.
These old legends guaranteed that St Nick would become the patron saint of children.
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Santa Claus, who appears all over the place at towards the end of the year, raises so many questions. Who is he? Where on earth did he come from? Why the red suit?
In this special rejesus investigation, we look at the saint behind it all, St Nick.
Written by Simon Jenkins
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