The origins of the modern icon of Santa Claus may not be as familiar as the more recent portrayals of the gentle Christmas character but the story is a great narrative of giving.
Artwork by Stephanie Severin
Saint Nicholas or Nicholas of Myra, on whom Santa Claus was based led an extraordinary life according to the writings and tales about him. Born of Grecian parents in Turkey around the year 280 A.D, he was orphaned early in life and brought up by his uncle who was a Bishop.
Nicholas is well-known as the secret benefactor of many a poor and down-trodden person. Being a humble person and not wanting his gifts to be refused due to pride, he would leave things such as food, clothing and money without letting his presence be known.
Artwork by Alison Manning
In one of the legends, Nicholas discovers a family with three daughters who have no money to pay marital dowries. Now, in the modern world, being an unmarried woman is not a big deal but back in those times woman without the support of marriage often fell on bad times and had to resort to unsavory ways to support themselves. Nicholas took pity on the family but did not want his act of charity to be rejected, so he anonymously put a purse full of coins through the window of the family's home the night before each daughter became of age to marry.
Artwork by Petra Berendsen
The legend goes that the father tried to catch his benefactor and so Nicholas had to become more inventive in his deliveries. It is said that he threw the last purse of coins down the chimney and one variation claims that several coins fell into the girl's stocking which she had left drying over the embers in the fireplace. Hmmm.....stockings, chimneys....sounds familiar.
Artwork by Helene Huber
There is also a story of how Saint Nicholas persuaded some sailors to provide wheat for his village which was suffering from famine. The sailors were scared to do so as the Emperor demanded that the cargo be weighed at the beginning and end of sea voyages so theft could be detected. While leery of the consequences, the sailors were won over by Nicholas' pleas and provided him with some of the wheat. To their surprise when the cargo was weighed at their destination, the cargo's weight remained unchanged from what it had been at their departure.
Artwork by Laura Liddell
Saint Nicholas Day will be celebrated in many places and in many ways today, but it is often celebrated as a festival for children to commemorate Saint Nicholas' kindness to the young. What could be a nicer way to honor kindness and generosity?