Just WHO is Saint Nick (c) Atham-Z 2004-5

St. Nicholas - Patron of bakers and pawnbrokers, saver of storm-tossed sailors, defender of young children, and giver of generous gifts to the poor. Along with the preceding, he is the patron saint of the countries of Greece and Russia.

This thoughtful philanthropist, depicted as an old man in a white beard with a long caped coat or sometimes even in episcopal robes, remained, nonetheless, a moralistic figure. He rewarded deserving children and punished the difficult and unruly ones. Although many of the stories about Saint Nicholas are of doubtful authenticity , his legend spread throughout Europe, emphasizing his role as a traditional bringer of gifts.

The Christian figure of Saint Nicholas replaced or incorporated various pagan gift-giving figures such as the Roman Befana and the Germanic Berchta and Knecht Ruprecht. The saint was called Sankt Nikolaus in Germany and Sanct Herr Nicholaas or Sinter Klaas in Holland. The Dutch custom of commemorating the feast of Saint Nicholas spread to the United States where Sinter Klaas quickly became Santa Claus for Americans. In the European countries Nicholas was sometimes said to ride through the sky on a horse. He was depicted wearing a bishop's robes and was said to be accompanied at times by Black Peter, an elf whose job was to whip the naughty children.

The feast day of Nicholas, when presents were received, was traditionally observed on December 6th. After the Reformation, German Protestants encouraged veneration of the Christkindl (Christ child) as a gift giver on his own feast day, December 25. When the Nicholas tradition prevailed, it became attached to Christmas itself.

Because the saint's life is so unreliably documented, the Pope ordered the feast of Saint Nicholas dropped from the official Roman Catholic calendar. The term Christkindl evolved to Kriss Kringle, another nickname for Santa Claus. Various other European Christmas gift givers were more or less similar to Saint Nicholas: Pre Nol in France, Julenisse in Scandinavia, and Father Christmas in England.

My mom taught me that Santa Claus or St. Nick is the spirit of Christmas, and that has certainly been enough of an explanation for me throughout my lifetime.

May you enjoy a very happy holiday season!


This page was created November 16, 2005.