Yes, Virginia – there really is a Santa Claus.
However, he’s not what you might think: you won’t find him hanging out at North Pole sweatshops, sipping triple-fudge espressos and cracking the whip on overworked persons of diminutive size. And contrary to what advertising says, he’s not the sweaty fat guy at the mall in the red velour suit handing out candy canes, either.
Many people do not know that the real Santa Claus was neither a storybook creation nor a marketing ploy. He was a real man. And while he didn’t have a reindeer-powered sleigh or slide down chimneys, he did become famous, in part, for his gift-giving.
St. Nicholas was born in Lycia (modern-day Turkey) in the fourth century AD, and was known for his kindness and charity. The most famous story of his generosity was about a rich man who had three daughters. The man fell suddenly into poverty and decided he had no choice but to sell his daughters into prostitution. St. Nicholas heard about it, and on three nights as everyone slept, he slipped past the man’s window and tossed in a bag of gold.
Eventually, Saint Nicholas became the patron saint of children. In Northern Europe his name was changed to Santa Claus, but he’s also known as Jolly Old Saint Nick, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle, Papai Noel, Sinterklaas and even Dun Che Lao Ren.
The real St. Nicholas was not fat or silly, but thin and sober. He was, however, the kindest of men. In the Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic traditions, saints are usually honored on the day they die. In many parts of the world, Saint Nicholas delivers gifts on the eve of his Feast Day, December 6, and Christmas is reserved for the religious observance of Christ’s birth, or the Nativity.
Orthodox Christian children around the world leave their shoes by the fireplace or in the church hall while they attend a service in St. Nicholas’ honor. Somehow, when they come back for their shoes, they find them stuffed with oranges, chocolate coins, nuts and small gifts.
Felted Wool Baby Slippers by woolybaby
These days, even as many parents line up at Walmart bright and early on the day after Thanksgiving to get the best deal on the latest cool toys, we often bemoan the fact that Christmas seems to have become all about the presents. This year, on December 6th, why not take a moment to tell your kids the story of the REAL Santa Claus, and why giving can be so much better than receiving.
Then tell them to check their shoes.
* For more information on the life of St. Nicholas, check out the Saint Nicholas Center.