Posted on 16 December 2008
Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Santa Claus. He was a 4th century Greek Christian bishop of Myra in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia, now in Turkey. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor. He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. Saint Nicholas is a key component in the history of Turkey.
Demre (formerly Myra) is on the southern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. The village is home to the famous church of St Nicholas which contains the sarcophagus believed to be his tomb.
It’s been a long journey from the 4th century Bishop of Myra, Saint Nicholas, who showed his devotion to God in extraordinary kindness and generosity, to the jolly Santa Claus we know today. The American version of Saint Nicholas, or Santa Claus, originally came from the Dutch version called Sint Klaas. The Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam (New York) brought this fun and lively tradition to America.
Saint Nicholas died in about 350 AD and his fame spread rapidly through the Middle Ages with thousands of churches dedicated to him. He has been the patron saint of Moscow, Greece, children, sailors, prisoners, bakers, pawnbrokers, shopkeepers and wolves.
His gift giving role in Christmas follows from his fame as the friend of children. He used to give anonymous donations of gold coins to persons in need. His cult spread in Europe and Christmas presents were distributed on December 6th when the celebration of St Nicholas took place. In many countries this is still the day of Christmas gift giving.
The relics of Saint Nicholas are in the basilica of St Nicola in Bari, Italy, after they were stolen from Myra, Turkey in 1087 AD.