Excerpted from The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra, (Baylor University Press) by Adam C. English:
The contemporary picture of Santa Claus is largely the byproduct of commercialization and advertisement tied to the history of Coca-Cola, Hollywood's movie industry, Wal-Mart's sales, shopping mall photo-ops, and the Internet. All though these images are worth having, they do not get us any closer to the historical reality of the man behind the myth--Christian saint Nicholas of Myra. Here are 5 things to know about the fourth-century bishop who lived a life of faith, adventure and charity.—Adam C. English
The actual Saint Nicholas lived in the southeast of what is now Turkey, though his bones are entombed in Bari, Italy.
Though Santa Claus is often thought of as an emblem of the materialistic, rather than the spiritual, side of Christmas, the real Saint Nicholas was a man of deep faith who gave away his own possessions.
The idea of a secret nocturnal visitor who leaves gifts grew out of Nicholas’s anonymous generosity to a poor family, whom he helped by tossing a bag of gold coins through their window at night.
“Jolly old St. Nick” played a role in pivotal events in the history of Christianity, including attending the Council of Nicaea, convened by the Emperor Constantine, which
developed the first uniform Christian creed.
After three Roman military officers, Nepotianus, Ursus, and Eupoleonis, met Nicholas in Myra and witnessed his bravery, boldness and sharp sense of justice for defending the innocent and stopping a wrongful beheading, the Roman officers returned to Constantinople only to be imprisoned themselves on trumped up charges. For their supposed treason they would be executed in the morning." The officers called out to the God of Nicholas of Myra to spare their lives. That night, Nicholas appeared in a vision to the slumbering Emperor Constantine, chided the Emperor for his rash judgment, and demanded the release of Nepotianus, Ursus and Eupoleonis.
At first, the frightened Emperor accused the officers of magic. Then the Emperor asked the officers if they knew anyone named "Nicholas." Overjoyed at the mention of the name, they related what they had seen in Myra and how they had called out to the God of Nicholas in their distress. Constantine perceived the hand of Almighty Providence at work, repented of his ignorance and arrogance, and released the prisoners. In humble gratitude to God, the men shaved their heads and donned the simple garments of pilgrims, then made their way back to Myra with gifts of gold, silver, and costly clothing to thank God and venerate the blessed Nicholas.
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