“He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, and away they all flew like the down of a thistle: but I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight-Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
The room was dimly lit by the warm glow of Christmas lights and the blue cast of the television. While Sam watched the MSU girls’ basketball game, I wandered through thoughts of Christmases past settling comfortably on Saint Nicholas.
The American Heritage Dictionary, with its tissue thin pages, dark blue cover and gold embossed lettering, said “Saint Nicholas,” Santa Claus [after St. Nicholas of Myra (d. A.D. 352?).]
I continued my travels through cyberspace tracking Saint Nicholas to Myra, once a thriving port located on the southern coast of Turkey formerly Lycia.
As a young boy, Nicholas was orphaned when his parents were taken by a plague that wiped out one-third of Myra’s population. Nicholas’ parents were wealthy and had educated him in Christian teachings. Having been taught the words of Jesus, “Sell what you own and give to the poor,” Nicholas began to help those in need, especially the children.
There are many legends and little exacting information of his humble and charitable nature. Some say that Nicholas would throw small bags of gold through the windows of the poor that would often land in the children’s stockings that were left by the fireside to dry.
As a young man Nicholas was made the Bishop of Myra. At one point he was imprisoned as were many of the religious leaders by Emperor Diocletian and later released by Emperor Constantine. It is said that during his lifetime Nicholas made a pilgrimage by sea to the Holy Land. On his travels there were many sea misadventures of which he survived along with the sailors. The stories began to spread across continents and Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of children, the poor, the sick, merchants, sailors, the unjustly imprisoned, travelers, students, scholars, laborers, judges; the exiled. He became known as a friend and protector of anyone troubled or in need which at some time or another would be all of us.
Saint Nicholas died on Dec. 6 between the years 343-352 A.D. Dec. 6 was made into a day of feast. Saint Nicholas has continued to be honored for his compassionate life by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants alike.
By 1823 when Clement Clarke Moore wrote “An Account of a Visit from Saint Nicholas” Saint Nicholas was taking on a new name-that of Santa Claus and was showing many of the same benevolent attributes of Saint Nicholas such as filling the stockings of small children with candy wrapped in gold papers, leaving gifts under the tree and letting friends and family know that they are loved and thought of by sharing sparkly cards that say “Merry Christmas.”
In 1881 cartoonist Thomas Nast drew Santa Claus dressed in a red suit trimmed with white fur and the rest of the story like the first … is history.
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