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The Greek Orthodox Church and Her Saints. Saint Nicholas. 6th December: Feast of Saint Nicholas. Who is the real Santa Claus?

Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas

How did the good and generous, Christian Saint, the good Bishop Nicholas, become the Christmas Santa Claus, all dressed up in a Father Christmas outfit?

Read on and I shall tell you the tale.

Saint Nicholas, was born a Greek, on the fifteenth of March 270, in Patara in Lycia.

He died, on the sixth of December 343, which is now celebrated as the feast day of Saint Nicholas.

He was born to wealthy Christian parents and was deeply religious from an early age.

How he became Bishop of Myra (Modern day Demre, Turkey) is unusual.

After the death of the former bishop, during the conclave to choose the new bishop, one of the group heard a voice, telling him to watch the doors of the church the next morning.

The first person to enter the church , named Nicholas, was to be the next bishop.

What do you know? The first person through the church doors the next morning  was today's Saint Nicholas. He was consequently ordained  Bishop of Myra.

Church Of Saint Nicholas Myra
Church Of Saint Nicholas Myra

After his death, Saint Nicholas was buried at Myra, owing to his reputation as a  kind and generous man,  and remembering the miracles he had performed, pilgrims from all over the world flocked to his tomb.

When Myra was defeated by the Turks, his relics were removed, for fear of them being destroyed, to Italy.

Half went to Bari in 1087.

Church Of Saint Nicholas, Bari, Italy
Church Of Saint Nicholas.

 Bari, Italy

The other half of the relics were taken to Venice in 1100.

Church of Saint Nicholas, Venice, Italy
Church of Saint Nicholas.

 Venice, Italy

It is said, that in Myra, the relics of Saint Nicholas, exuded a clear, watery liquid, smelling of rose water which the faithful believed to possess miraculous powers.

After the relics were moved to Bari, they continued to exude this myrrh.
Vials of this have been taken all over the world and can still be obtained at the Church Of Saint Nicholas, Bari.

An Irish tradition states:

  The relics of Saint Nicholas were stolen from Myra by Norman crusader knights and are buried near Thomas Town, Kilkenny, where a stone slab marks the spot believed to be his grave.

Stone slab in Thomas Town, Kilkenny, Ireland. Believed to be the tomb of Saint Nicholas.
Stone slab in Thomas Town, Kilkenny, Ireland.

Believed to be the tomb of Saint Nicholas.

In 1993 a grave was found on the small Turkish Island of Gemile, which, historians believe to be, the original tomb of Saint Nicholas.

The image of Saint Nicholas, is found more often on Byzantine seals than of any other Saint, and ,in the Middle Ages, over two thirds of churches were dedicated to Saint Nicholas in England alone.

It is said he has been represented by Christian artists, more than any other Saint.

Saint Nicholas
Saint Nicholas

 In the East, Saint Nicholas is known as the Patron Saint Of Sailors.

Saint Nicholas. Patron Saint Of Sailors
Saint Nicholas

Patron Saint Of Sailors

In the West, he is known as the Patron Saint Of Children.

Saint Nicholas. Patron Saint Of Children
Saint Nicholas.

Patron Saint Of Children

The first, is due to the legend, that, in his life time, he appeared to sailors on the stormy seas of Lycia and the Aegean and brought them safely to port.

Sailors in the Aegean and Ionian seas had their "Star of Nicholas" and wished each other a good journey by saying:

"May Saint Nicholas hold the tiller"

The second, as Patron Saint of children, is due to the rather macabre story of Saint Nicholas visiting an inn and discovering that the proprietor had killed three children and boiled them, to be eaten as meat, by his customers.

The boiled children were kept in a barrel in the cellar.
Saint Nicholas prayed over the barrel and brought the three children back to life. 

Another well-known story is how, on hearing, about a poor man with three daughters, who didn't have the means to provide a dowry for them, Saint Nicholas, secretly threw three bags of gold coins through their window, to cover their dowries.

This story explains the tradition of popping chocolate "Gold coins" into children's Christmas stockings.

Saint Nicholas, secretly throwing gold, through the window of the three maidens.
Saint Nicholas, secretly throwing gold, through
the window of the three maidens.

His reputation for generosity was boundless, his giving of gifts was usually done secretly, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him.

Today, we are more likely to hang up our stockings!

Shoes, left out, waiting for gifts from Saint Nicholas
Shoes, left out, waiting for gifts from Saint Nicholas

From this, he became a model for today's Santa Claus (A corruption of the name Saint Nicholas)

For his generosity and performing of miracles he is known as:
"The Wonder Worker"

Santa Claus
Santa Claus

Saint Nicholas was transformed even more, into today's Santa Claus, with the poem by Clement Clarke Moore, a professor of biblical studies.

 This poem has been attributed to other writers, whoever wrote it though, it has had a great influence on how we picture Saint Nicholas today.

 "A visit from Saint Nicholas", better known as "Twas the night before Christmas"

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly,

That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf. . . .

An icon or painting of Saint Nicholas, can be recognized, by seven symbols:

The seven symbols of Saint Nicholas
The seven symbols of Saint Nicholas

1. A mitre, a pointed hat, worn by a bishop

2. A crozier, the hooked staff, carried by a bishop

3. Three gold balls, or sometimes, coins, representing the three bags of gold, given for the dowries.

4. Three maidens, the three daughters, given the dowries.

5. Three children in a tub, representing the three saved children.

6. A ship or an anchor, for his patronage of sailors

7. A book, The Holy Scriptures.

Images of Saint Nicholas, usually show him with either all seven symbols, or four of the symbols.

Icon Showing Saint Nicholas,  with four of his seven symbols
Icon Showing Saint Nicholas,
 with four of his seven symbols

Above shows him with four of the symbols:
 The mitre, the crozier, the three children in a tub and a ship.

Saint Nicholas with all seven symbols showing
Saint Nicholas with all seven symbols showing
This picture shows him with all seven of the symbols.

Saint Nicholas is the Patron Saint of Greece, Apuli (Italy), Sicily, Naples, Loraine (France) Switzerland and Norway (together with St.Olaf)

He is so well-loved and popular, that he is Patron Saint of just too many things to list.

There are two churches dedicated to Saint Nicholas in  the area where we live, Loutraki.

One is the beautiful tiny church of Saint Nicholas, on the shores of Vouliagmeni Lake, close by to the amazing ancient ruins of  "The Sanctuary of Hera of Perahora"

Church of Saint Nicholas Vouligmeni Lake Loutraki, Greece
Church of Saint Nicholas
Vouligmeni Lake
Loutraki, Greece
The second church, in the Loutraki area, dedicated to Saint Nicholas, is the church of Saint Nicholas the Younger, located in the Melagari region, near Perachora,  the oldest Byzantine monument in the area, built in the tenth or eleventh century.

 Experts have described its outstanding wall paintings as historic treasures of the greatest value.

 In earlier times, the monastery had a full complement of monks, and even today the beauty of the scenery does much to uplift the spirits of pilgrims.

  On the sixth of December, his feast day, a local tradition is followed, where bulgar, or cracked wheat, is boiled and eaten.

Curch of Saint Nicholas the Younder Melagari, Perahora, Loutraki Greece
Curch of Saint Nicholas the Younger
Melagari, Perahora, Loutraki
The wheat, symbolizes the grain that Saint Nicholas provided for the poor, during famine, when he always showed concern for the poor and the hungry.

Before the wheat is boiled, a plate of it is held high, and blessed by the priest.

It is then boiled, along with the rest of the wheat.

By the time the service is over, the wheat is cooked and is shared and eaten by the congregation.

The boiling of the cracked wheat
 Boiling  cracked wheat

Here in Greece, it is not Saint Nicholas (Santa Claus) who delivers gifts at Christmas, twenty fifth of December.

It is Saint Vasillis (St.Basil) on New Year's Eve.

When my children were younger, they had the best of both worlds, MGG (My Greek God) and I, celebrated the English Christmas, having Santa Claus bring gifts on the twenty fifth of December, and again on New Year's Eve with MGG's family and Greek friends.

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