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Saint Nicholas: The Story Behind the Myth

Dec 2, 2008

by swanmountainsoaps

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.

Classic Saint Nicholas Waldorf Needle Felted Doll by haddy2dogs

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.

Feeling a bit stressed about the holiday season? We’re here to help!
Gift Idea Blog Posts | Etsy Finds

Stocking Stuffer Gift Guide | More Holiday Traditions

Maple and Walnut wood baby\/infant rattle
Maple and Walnut wood baby\/infant rattle
Red Corduroy Booties with White Ribbon Ties
Red Corduroy Booties with White Ribbon Ties
Cranberry Sugar Cookie Soap- Seasonal
Cranberry Sugar Cookie Soap- Seasonal
Neskat.s Embroidered Wool Felt Hair Clip -Holiday Colors-4-
Neskat.s Embroidered Wool Felt Hair Clip -Holiday Colors-4-
Tiny Sock Monkey - choose your color
Tiny Sock Monkey - choose your color
Chocolate Butterscotch Bars
Chocolate Butterscotch Bars
Felted Wool Baby Slippers - Brown with Apple, Custom Size
Felted Wool Baby Slippers - Brown with Apple, Custom Size
Classic Christmas Personalized Baking Tags
Classic Christmas Personalized Baking Tags
Classic Saint Nicholas Waldorf needle felted doll
Classic Saint Nicholas Waldorf needle felted doll
Anise (licorice) Caramels
Anise (licorice) Caramels


  • LaveMeSoapCo

    LaveMeSoapCo said 8 years ago

    swan! awesome article!!

  • BeadsInTheBelfry

    BeadsInTheBelfry said 8 years ago

    I was afraid those stained glass cookies weren't edible. So happy they are. They look too too delectable!

  • pixieskitchen

    pixieskitchen said 8 years ago

    Thanks so much for reminding us about the truth behind Santa Claus---and how one act of kindness an become legendary!

  • dogties

    dogties said 8 years ago

    Always good to hear about. Wonderful items, bring on the season.

  • bluejn

    bluejn said 8 years ago

    great article, just finished posting my santa doll, its extremly special to me.

  • zestybeads

    zestybeads said 8 years ago

    we always had oranges and ribbon candy and toothbrushes in our stockings when I was little :)

  • LaveMeSoapCo

    LaveMeSoapCo said 8 years ago

    hey! someone bought these anise caramels before i could *pouts*

  • LaveMeSoapCo

    LaveMeSoapCo said 8 years ago

    i found more! yippee!

  • lemondropstudio

    lemondropstudio said 8 years ago

    Wonderful items!! I love the baby rattle, and the picture is amazing, too!! Great article!

  • TwinDreamCreations

    TwinDreamCreations said 8 years ago

    Wonderful! Thank you for the beautiful story. Growing up - we always celebrated St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6th. Thank you for bringing back wonderful memories.

  • glamasaurus

    glamasaurus said 8 years ago

    I love that little sock monkey. I am going ot attend a parade here on Saturday for St. Nicolas. I'm excited.

  • froydis

    froydis said 8 years ago

    very nice! its nice to be reminded of the true stories behind all the hype. Wonderful!

  • anicastillo

    anicastillo said 8 years ago

    this is so great, I never imagined he was a real man... In Mexico is baby Jesus who brings the present to us... aaaw, Is cute to imagine him now that Im all grown up...

  • CarryTheWord

    CarryTheWord said 8 years ago

    great article, and what yummy looking treats!

  • dancingcircle

    dancingcircle said 8 years ago

    What a lovely article - we have a special family celebration every Jan 6 - then we put away the nativity scene.

  • auntboosbabies

    auntboosbabies said 8 years ago

    nice article. we have a st nicholas from haddy2dogs and he is beautiful. my 4yo insists that we keep him on our season table all year round. he even looks great surrounded by seashells:o)

  • JustFeltHungry

    JustFeltHungry said 8 years ago

    Great article! Sweet hairclips!

  • ME2Designs

    ME2Designs said 8 years ago

    Christina - thank you for the great information in your article, and reminder to us! Noor in Rotterdam ( reminded me a couple of days ago about Sinterklaas arriving by boat from Spain on December 5th (eve of St. Nicholas). Awaiting Sinterklaas was a tradition when I was a child, as my grandfather was from Rotterdam. Our shoes always had so many goodies in them, and it was so neat to have extra celebrations each December.

  • JulieMeyer

    JulieMeyer said 8 years ago

    I loved celebrating St. Nicholas day as a child - my brothers and I would find our biggest shoes to leave out. My kids love doing it now.

  • HomemadeZen

    HomemadeZen said 8 years ago

    Thanks for reminding us who St Nicholas is!

  • NicoAndMooMoo

    NicoAndMooMoo said 8 years ago

    Happy "Name Day" to: Nicholas, Nico, Nicky, Nick, Nicollette, Nicolette, Nicole, Nicolas... from Nico (& Mr. MooMoo :-))

  • makemesmile

    makemesmile said 8 years ago

    HouseOfMouse has a Sinterklaas mouse!: =^x^=

  • TheCottageCheese

    TheCottageCheese said 8 years ago

    Such a great article. Love the baby rattle, and Neskat's barettes are so great (I puchased 7 of them already for gifts for friends and myself!).

  • ellaluna

    ellaluna said 8 years ago

    Oh my gosh, this article makes me hungry!

  • roundabout

    roundabout said 8 years ago

    Thanks for reminding us of the generous spirit of Santa - whatever you call him!

  • tylr

    tylr said 8 years ago

    I spy come tasty "related items"!

  • Vanessa Admin

    Vanessa said 8 years ago

    thought you might like this post too!

  • XmasWithKrampus

    XmasWithKrampus said 8 years ago

    To add to the above article, - St. Nick was always accompanied by his dark side kick - Krampus aka Black Peter, etc (depending on the region). Krampus deals with the naughty kids on Santa's list. In Austria on Dec. 5, Krampusfest is held, St. Nick parades thru town with a herd of Krampusse, is a fun, scary night to remind us to do good or pay the consequences for our actions. If you want a abbreviated version of the philosophy of Krampus, check out the song "Xmas With Krampus" on our myspace page:

  • EclecticDesigner

    EclecticDesigner said 8 years ago

    Perfect reminder of the reason for the season~ Thanks, Swan....

  • wheredidyougetthat

    wheredidyougetthat said 8 years ago

    An absolute gorgeous list of choices in this article!

  • breadandroses2

    breadandroses2 said 8 years ago

    This story brings back cherished memories of receiving oranges and chocolate coins in our shoes as a child - but at Christmas, not on St. Nicholas Day. Thank you!

  • pruitthandcrafts

    pruitthandcrafts said 8 years ago

    Thanks for the article! I am the mother of a blended family of 10 and currently have 22 grandchildren. We all (my kids and I) try to teach our children that to give is better than to recieve. One year instead of exchanging gifts (although some did anyway) we gave the matching amount to a charity that provided blankets to orphanages in Thailand. I'll remind all my kids about Dec. 6th, and the gift of giving! Thanks for writing!

  • CourtneyBathBoutique

    CourtneyBathBoutique said 8 years ago

    Thanks for this great article!

  • peaseblossomstudio

    peaseblossomstudio said 8 years ago

    Excellent article! And such a great selection of things to go with it!

  • AZCreativeStudio

    AZCreativeStudio said 8 years ago

    Wonderful article!

  • mindylee

    mindylee said 8 years ago

    a refreshing blessing to see this on here!

  • RonH

    RonH said 8 years ago

    I knew all this, once upon a time. Thanks for the jog to my grey cells. Merry Christmas everyone.

  • FluteTeacher

    FluteTeacher said 8 years ago

    Lovely article. A great reminder about Father Christmas.

  • TheSingingBird

    TheSingingBird said 8 years ago

    beautiful article swanmountain, and i'm so glad you included haddy2dogs' work. i have one of her st. nicholas dolls and he is so beautiful! thanks for all the new links to see as well!

  • sygnetcreations

    sygnetcreations said 8 years ago

    Swan, I loved your writing! I have told my children the story of St Nick. They also met a man not to long ago in North Pole Alaska who was a very sweet and generous man his name was legally Kris Kringle. Reading your story reminded me of him and I plan to share this storey once more........Happy Holidays!!

  • DoSiDough

    DoSiDough said 8 years ago

    Very awesome!!!

  • yipestoo

    yipestoo said 8 years ago

    very good article. my birthday is the 6th of December, the Feast of St. Nick:)

  • petalouda

    petalouda said 8 years ago

    I love love love this article!

  • ArtWhims

    ArtWhims said 8 years ago

    thank you for sharing :D

  • 4TheSparrowsNest

    4TheSparrowsNest said 8 years ago

    Thoughtful article. Giving truly is better than receiving. Practising it can make you realize that even more...

  • thelittlebrownwren

    thelittlebrownwren said 8 years ago

    A fascinating read!! Thanks for the insight, this is a great perspective on the subject and the upcoming holiday.

  • almightyvintagevenus

    almightyvintagevenus said 8 years ago

    WOW, santa really existed... well i knew that already but this article does make me think of that telephone message game... by the time the message reaches the last person the its totally distorted. it makes me wonder about all the stories i have heard.

  • BluCille

    BluCille said 8 years ago

    Nice felted Saint Nick!

  • DearDodo

    DearDodo said 8 years ago

    Love your article! Only today I was talking about the 'real' Saint Nicholas day with someone. And my son will put out his little shoe on the 6th of December - just as I did as a child. A perfect occasion to fill it with a little handmade something!

  • metzypants

    metzypants said 8 years ago

    So pretty :)

  • CRSisters

    CRSisters said 8 years ago

    Great article about Saint Nicholas. The chocolate caramel apple looks so yummy!!!

  • PlanetPlayground

    PlanetPlayground said 8 years ago

    See!! I always knew Santa existed... What a great thing to tell children when they find out that 'there is no real Santa' HA! Great reminder for the real meaning of Christmas :)

  • Timeless

    Timeless said 8 years ago

    Last year I wrote this story for the Storque about the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition, which had a lot to do with arts and crafts. ;)

  • BigSis2

    BigSis2 said 8 years ago

    Ole St. Nick...he's the one that started it all. (The giving side of Christmas) I want to give like he did, he totally understood human need, and became a legend ... of course over time we've warped it a little. Thanks for the great article. The tiny sock monkey is too CUTE!

  • rudyjeis

    rudyjeis said 8 years ago

    Thanks for the reminder! A couple years ago I got a few books from the library (my favorite resource) and explained to my children this same information and it really helped them to appreciate this time of year with understanding. They thought it was funny how the original Saint Nick... over the years turned into a big man in a red suit with flying reindeer! Anyway, thanks so much for sharing with us and I too LOVE the little sock monkey and must have one for myself.

  • Valleycreations

    Valleycreations said 8 years ago

    Great article! My husband never heard of St. Nick's Day, and still thinks I made it up!!!

  • christinececelia

    christinececelia said 8 years ago

    Great article! Love the real st Nicholas- thanks. I love all the different "santas" and how they differ in every culture! :) ho ho ho!

  • patchworkplace

    patchworkplace said 8 years ago

    Oh it's so great you got to write this!

  • gardenstreetdesigns

    gardenstreetdesigns said 8 years ago

    Woo-hoo, Sinterklaas!!!

  • Mimiandlola

    Mimiandlola said 8 years ago

    What a beautiful story!

  • hautecountryvintage

    hautecountryvintage said 8 years ago

    Inspiring! Thx for the reminder :0)

  • MissMonday

    MissMonday said 8 years ago

    Where I live (in Germany) children are told that Sankt Nikolaus only drops off small presents in cleaned shoes, as a clever educational measure; so german children usually spend the evening of the 5th of December scraping the dirt off the biggest boots they own.

  • gochemoche

    gochemoche said 8 years ago

    Thank you for reminding us the beautiful story of St Nikolaus :) I am not Christian but I am proud to be a fellow Anatolian like him :)

  • filigreelamps

    filigreelamps said 8 years ago

    very touching, truly touches on what is important! thx!!

  • squirrelonaledgetop

    squirrelonaledgetop said 8 years ago

    Very nice article with great items at the end!!

  • PiperBags

    PiperBags said 8 years ago

    My family has always celebrated St. Nicolas Day. Last year we expanded our St. Nicholas tradition from shoes to our bags. We filled about 10 bags with oranges, nuts in the shell (peanuts, walnuts), ribbon candy, Hershey Kisses, bottle of organic sparkling fruit juice, hot chocolate mix. Then we left them on the doorsteps of our friends late December 5th. The next morning our home with filled with calls of thanks. Something so small can really brighten the holiday season!

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