St. Nicholas was the bishop of Myra back in the 4th century. He has become one of the most popular saints among Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, the patron saint of sailors, children, prisoners, pawnbrokers, to name just a few. He also mutated into the emblem of Christmas, Santa Claus. (Say “Saint Nicholas” real fast.)
But what is the connection between the bishop of Myra and Christmas? Stories about the saint supplying poor women’s dowries by putting money in stockings drying by the fire give us an explanation of the custom of hanging stockings for Santa to fill, but they don’t have a connection to Christmas, as such.
I think the connection is that the bishop was reportedly a member of the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D., which affirmed the deity of Jesus Christ and authored the Nicene Creed. A number of years ago, I wrote a piece for World Magazine about the role that St. Nicholas reportedly played at the Council of Nicaea, including slapping the heretic Arius who insisted that Jesus Christ was merely human and not divine.
The St. Nicholas Center has posted that column on its website, along with other supporting material and everything else you might like to know about St. Nicholas, including a forensic reconstruction of what he looked like. I also need to report that the St. Nicholas center has also posted the song parodies written by you Cranach commenters when we discussed my World column here. Those songs, playing on the image of Santa Claus slapping heretics, were quite creative and funny.
After the jump is a fuller account of St. Nicholas at Nicaea, which I will then discuss in terms of our need to recast Santa Claus as a Confessor of the church. [Read more…]