Saint Nicholas to Santa: the origins

Today I chatted with Matt Swaim on Sacred Heart Radio’s Sonrise Morning Show about the fest of St. Nicholas, on December 6 and the correlation between him and Santa.

First, here’s some history about St. Nicholas, who he was and how he became a saint:

Nicholas, born in a section of Greece which is now part of Turkey, came from wealthy parents who died when he was young.

They taught him good Christian values, and he used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. Each night, Nicholas would disguise himself and deliver such items as food, clothing and money to the people of his village.

Of all the townspeople, Nicholas felt the closest bond with one specific family. This family had lost all their money, and the father needed to support his three daughters who could not find husbands because of their poverty. In those days a dowry was necessary to marry. Nicholas became informed of this, and anonymously took a bag of gold coins  and threw it into an open window of the man’s house in the night. The legend is that it landed in a pair of shoes or socks that were left by the fire to dry. He gave the other 2 daughters enough gold for their dowrys, too.

This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.

The stories of his miracles and work for the poor eventually led him to the status of a saint. He was known as the protector of children, among others and that’s why we honor him with simple gifts on his feast day.

At beginning of Advent, we celebrate his feast day on December 6 by filling stockings with small gifts and also we put in fruit: a pomegranate. When we were kids, we put our regular socks on the bed posts. Now we hang fancy stockings on the mantle. And some European folks still put shoes by their bed in hopes St Nick will fill them with goodies.

Some families have a tradition of doing a St Nicholas “deed”. But it has to be in secret, so it’s in the spirit of St. Nicholas.

Is there someone in your neighborhood who will need their snow removed from their sidewalk? Is there someone who you know needs food to eat? How about leaving a bag of food on their doorknob or porch.

Saint Nicholas to Santa: The Surprising Origins of Mr. Claus

Santa’s evolution includes a round-the-world ride that rivals the one he does on Christmas Eve. Check out this article written by Brian Handwerk, who explains it all, for National Geographic.