Day 11: The Story of Father Christmas.
Happy Christmas Eve! Can you believe that Christmas is one day away?
It seems like just yesterday I was starting this special series for you readers. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and following along with me, but don’t worry because the fun isn’t over yet! Today, I would like to share with you the story behind the man of Father Christmas or Santa Claus…St. Nicholas.
The story begins all the way back in the 4th century…
St. Nicholas was a bishop of Myra who lived in Asia Minor or present day Turkey. When his parents passed away, he inherited a lot of money at a young age. He was a very generous and kind man who had a charitable reputation. He loved helping the poor and presenting gifts to those he saw fit in secret. While there are several tales of St. Nicholas, the most well known story is how the idea for hanging stockings and filling them with presents came to be.
There was once a poor man who had three daughters but not enough money for their dowry’s so they were not able to get married. One evening, Nicholas went to their house where he dropped a bag of gold down the chimney. It fell into a stocking that was left drying above the fireplace. Nicholas came back another night and did the same thing for the second daughter. The poor man was now determined to discover who was behind such thoughtful acts so he decided to stay by the fire until he caught the person in the act. Upon being discovered, Nicholas pleaded with the man to not disclose who he was or what he had done because he was not looking for attention to be brought upon himself. Like all good things they eventually reveal themselves, and when the secret got out everyone who received a secret gift believed it was from Nicholas himself!
Due to his generosity and kind heartedness, Nicholas was hereby declared a saint and became the patron saint of children and sailors.
Many years later, St. Nicholas was exiled from Myra and thrown into prison during the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian. He passed away on December 6 in the year 345 or 352; no-one is sure of the exact year. In 1087, his bones were stolen by Italian merchant sailors from Turkey. They are now kept in the church of his namesake in the Italian port city of Bari. Come every year on December 6th, now known as the Feast of St. Nicholas, sailors from Bari carry his statue from the cathedral down to the waters so he can bless the waters for calm and safe voyages throughout the year. If you’d like to learn more about St. Nicholas, I’d encourage you to check out this informative site at the link here.
So how did St. Nicholas become the Santa Claus we know and love today?
By the 16th century in Northern Europe, the legend of St. Nichola was becoming unpopular. Who was to deliver the gifts though? The distributing of presents to children at Christmas had to be done by someone! So in the UK, he was given the name Father Christmas or Old Man Christmas who was a character from story plays during the Middle Ages. In France he became known as Pere Noel while Dutch settlers who had arrived in the United States took their old tales of St. Nicholas with them and called him Kris Kringle. Soon Kris Kringle and St Nicholas were joined and became “Sinterklaas” or as we know and say today Santa Claus! Come the 1800s, the story of St. Nicholas was popular once again by writers, poets, and artists.
In 1821, a poem was published in New York called “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight.” It was here that Santa/St Nicholas was described as riding in a sleigh which was being pulled by reindeer. Eight fabulous illustrations were also published alongside the poem in a book called “The Children’s Friend: A New-Year’s Present, to the Little Ones from Five to Twelve.” These are said to be some of the earliest images of Santa Claus. Just a couple years later the famous poem “Twas the Night Before Christmas” was published by Dr. Clement Clarke Moore who said he had written it for his children. Within the poem, we learn more about St. Nicholas and names are given to the reindeer. Do you know them all? There are those who believe the poem was actually written by Henry Livingston Jr., who was a distant relative or Dr. Moore’s wife.
As time has carried on, the traditional UK Father Christmas and the American Santa Claus have slowly become more alike and are now essentially the same. Many believe Santa lives at the North Pole where the days and nights are chilly. In Finland however, they say Santa lives in the northern part of their country called Lapland. Whatever the case, one thing’s for sure is that he travels across the sky with his sleigh and reindeer bringing good cheer and presents for all.
Today, the story of St. Nicholas, whose origins have become the Santa Claus we know and love, have warmed the hearts of all who hear it. With his gentle heart and kind spirit, let St. Nicholas be a guiding example for us all. On this Christmas Eve, when all is quiet, I hope you take a moment to reflect on the season and all that makes it special.