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St. Nicholas

St. Nicholas

The fame achieved by Roman Catholic saint, Nicholas of Myra (died 345 AD) has continued to grow since his imprisonment and subsequent death at the hands of the Roman Emperor, Diocletian. The much-loved figure that we associate with the Christmas holiday came to be known simply as "Santa Claus."

Separating fact from legend in the story of St. Nicholas is not difficult. So little is known of his personal life, that we must rely on the legends that have survived. As early as the sixth century, churches were being built in his honor throughout Europe. By the Middle Ages, he had become the patron saint of both Greece and Russia. Devotion to Nicholas declined during the Protestant Reformation of the fifteenth century. The Netherlands was the only Protestant nation to maintain and embellish the legend of Nicholas. The Dutch kept his feast day of December 6 as the time to lavish presents on children who left their shoes out the night before. It was the Dutch who brought the custom of "Santa Claus" to the United States. By the middle of the nineteenth century America had embraced the custom as the center around which all of Christmas revolved.

Born to Wealth

Nicholas of Myra was born early in the fourth century AD in Patara, a city in the ancient district of Lycia, in southern Asia Minor (modern Turkey). His parents were wealthy and Nicholas might have lived the life of a spoiled son. Instead, it was reported that from childhood he lived a holy and humble life. When his parents died of a plague, Nicholas began to serve the poor near his home and in the surrounding towns and countryside.

An editorial from a December 1998 issue of The Ukranian Weekly, noted that, according to legend, Nicholas, became the bishop of Myra after the bishop of that city died and other bishops gathered to elect a new prelate. They asked God to show them a worthy successor. Apparently the oldest of the bishops had a vision in his sleep that the first man to enter the church in the morning to pray should be consecrated. That person was Nicholas.

By the time Nicholas died, on December 6, 345, word of his kind deeds and purported miracles was widespread public knowledge. The Roman Emperor Diocletion persecuted him for his Christian faith. Nicholas was buried in the church at Myra, where he had served as bishop. By the eleventh century, his reputation had spread as far as Italy, due in part to merchants and sailors who traveled throughout Europe and Asia. Italian sailors took Nicholas' bones to Bari, in the Puglia region of southern Italy. A Benedictine abbot named Elia ordered the construction of a cathedral to properly house the relics. Pope Urban II officially dedicated the Basilica San Nicola when the relics were entombed. These bones reportedly turned into liquid. The container holding this liquid is still carried as the centerpiece in a parade honoring him in Bari, on his feast day of December 6. Reportedly, the scent of this liquid is like that of a sweet perfume, making him the patron saint of perfumers.

One of the most famous stories about Nicholas was that he used his wealth to protect three young girls, whose father was too poor to provide them with adequate dowries. Without dowries, the girls were doomed to a life of prostitution as the only means of supporting themselves. Nicholas, it was said, put gold in each of three bags and threw them at the girls' window. In a book titled Saints Preserve Us! authors Sean Kelly and Rosemary Rogers explain that three balls representing financial aid in time of need, became the emblem of the pawn brokers guild. Their symbol was derived from this legend of St. Nicholas.

Defender of Christianity

In author John Delaney's Dictionary of the Saints, Nicholas is said to have forced a governor, Eustaathius, to admit that he had been bribed to condemn three innocent men to death. Nicholas appeared in Emperor Constantine's dream to inform the emperor that three imperial officers, condemned to death at Constantinople, were innocent. Constantine freed them the next morning. As a result, Nicholas became known as the patron saint of prisoners.

A rather offbeat story recounted by Kelly and Rogers, tells of Nicholas visiting a local butcher during a famine. To his surprise, he was served meat. Suspecting the worst, Nicholas proceeded to his host's cellar, finding three barrels containing three murdered boys in brine. The bishop lost no time in restoring them to life, and "has been a patron of children-in-a-pickle ever since." His acts of kindness and miracles for children, carried the reputation of Nicholas to the far corners of the Roman Empire.

Some argue that Santa Claus is based on the Germanic god, Thor, who was associated with winter and the Yule log and rode on a chariot drawn by goats named Cracker and Gnasher. That the historical person of Nicholas became transformed into the kindly Santa Claus from a pagan legend was due to the notoriety he gained by extending a helping hand in the aid of children. His was not an age known for protecting children. Instead they were often left to beg when they lost their parents or lived in poverty.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Nicholas legend was that his story influenced future generations to demonstrate kindness to children, at least once a year. The modern tradition has remained true to the simple bishop of Myra, who devoted his life to helping the poor.

Further Reading

Delaney, John J. Pocket Dictionary of Saints, Image Books, 1983.

Kelly, Sean and Rosemary Rogers, Saints Preserve Us! Random House, 1993.

Koenig-Bricker, Woodeene. 365 Saints, HarperSanFrancisco, 1995.

St. Joseph's Daily Missal, official daily prayer and Mass book of the Roman Catholic Church, 1955.

The Ukranian Weekly, December 13, 1998.

Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1995. Available at: http://www.brittanica.com. □

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Nicholas

Nicholas male forename, name of two saints.
St Nicholas of Myra a 4th-century Christian prelate, said to have been bishop of Myra in Lycia; his relics were translated to Bari in Italy in 1087.

Legends of the saint include the stories that he gave three bags of gold as dowries to three girls about to be sold into prostitution, and that he restored to life three boys who had been murdered and pickled in a brine tub; he also saved from death three men who had been unjustly condemned, and three sailors off the coast of Turkey. He is patron saint of children, sailors, Greece, and Russia; of pawnbrokers (from the connection made between the three golden balls of a pawnbroker's sign and the three bags of gold given as dowries); and of perfumiers (because a fragrant substance is said to have been emitted from his shrine at Bari). The cult of Santa Claus (a corruption of his name) comes from the Dutch custom of giving gifts to children on his feast day.

Three boys in a tub, three moneybags, and a ship, are all emblems of St Nicholas. His feast day is 6 December.
St Nicholas of Tolentino (1245–1305), an Augustinian friar, born in Ancona, and named for St Nicholas of Myra; he was renowned as a preacher, and for his care of the sick and destitute. His usual emblems are a basket of loaves of bread (traditionally given to the sick, or to women in labour) and a star, and his feast day is 10 September.

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"Nicholas." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Nicholas, Saint

Saint Nicholas, patron of children and sailors, of Greece, Sicily, and Russia, and of many other places and persons. Little is known of him, but he is traditionally identified as a 4th-century bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. His relics were stolen from Myra in the Middle Ages and taken to Bari, Italy. St. Nicholas is the subject of many legends. He is credited with restoring to life three boys who had been chopped up and pickled in salt by a butcher. Another famous story concerns his giving three bags of gold to the daughters of a poor man and thus saving them from lives of prostitution. Later tradition transformed the bags into three gold balls, which became the symbol of pawnbrokers. In the Netherlands and elsewhere St. Nicholas's feast (Dec. 6) is a children's holiday, appropriate for gifts. The English in colonial New York adopted from the Dutch the now unrecognizable saint, calling him Santa Claus (a contraction of the Dutch Sint Nikolaas). They moved his feast day to the English gift holiday, Christmas. The career and qualities attributed to Santa Claus are all recently acquired.

See biography by C. W. Jones (1978, repr. 1988).

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"Nicholas, Saint." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Oct. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Nicholas (Russian grand duke)

Nicholas (Nikolai Nikolayevich) (nyĬkəlī´ nyĬkəlī´əvĬch), 1856–1929, Russian grand duke and army officer; first cousin of Czar Alexander III and grandson of Czar Nicholas I. He served in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78. During the Revolution of 1905, he refused the czar's request that he become military dictator, thus forcing Nicholas to accept Count Witte's plan for an elective national assembly. Nicholas was made commander in chief of the Russian armies at the outbreak of World War I. In 1915 Czar Nicholas II, influenced by the czarina and Rasputin, relieved him of his post and took over the command himself. Grand Duke Nicholas was made commander in the Caucasus, where he won successes against the Turks until the February Revolution of 1917 deprived him of his command. He left Russia in 1919 and settled in France.

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Nicholas, St.

Nicholas, St.

One of the most popular saints in Christianity, St. Nicholas is the patron of children, unmarried women, sailors, and merchants, as well as the patron saint of Russia. He has long been associated with winter and served as the basis for Santa Claus.

Little is known for certain about the life of St. Nicholas. According to tradition, he was born in the seaport of Patara in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey) and became bishop of Myra in the a.d. 300S. He was persecuted and imprisoned for his Christian faith.

After his death around a.d. 350, St. Nicholas was buried in the church at Myra. In about 1087, the relics of the saint were moved to Bari, Italy, which became a popular pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. The church of San Nicola in Bari remains the main shrine to St. Nicholas.

patron special guardian, protector, or supporter

relics pieces of bone, possessions, or other items belonging to a saint or sacred person

St. Nicholas had a reputation for kindness and generosity, especially to the poor, and these traits became the basis for various legends. According to one story, St. Nicholas helped three poverty-stricken girls escape a life on the streets by giving them bags of gold to serve as dowries. In another tale, he miraculously brought back to life three young children who had been chopped up and put in a barrel of saltwater to serve as bacon. In yet another legend, St. Nicholas saved the lives of three drowning sailors by stopping a violent storm that threatened to overwhelm them.

During the Middle Ages, devotion to St. Nicholas spread throughout Europe, and it became customary to give gifts to children on the saint's feast day, December 6. The people of Holland called the saint Sinte Klaas, and when Dutch settlers came to North America, they brought the traditions associated with him to the New World.

dowry money, goods, or property that a woman brings to her husband at marriage

When the English took over the Dutch colony of New Netherland, they adopted the tradition of Sinte Klaas. But to avoid celebrating the feast day of a Catholic saint, English Protestants transformed him into a nonreligious figure based on both Sinte Klaas and the Germanic god Thor, a figure also associated with winter. In addition, they moved the feast day from December 6 to Christmas. The name Sinte Klaas was eventually transformed into Santa Claus, the jolly figure who brings gifts to children on Christmas Eve.

See also Santa Claus; Thor.

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Nicholas, Saint

Nicholas, Saint (active 4th century) Patron saint of children and sailors. According to tradition, he was Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. Nicholas is the subject of many legends. In one, he secretly gave gold to three poor girls as their dowry. From this came the custom of giving presents on his feast day, December 6, a habit later transferred to Christmas in most countries. His name in one Dutch dialect, Sinter Claes, became Santa Claus.

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Nicholas

NicholasCallas, callous, callus, Dallas, Pallas, phallus •Nablus • manless •hapless, mapless •atlas, fatless, hatless •braless, parlous •armless • artless •jealous, zealous •endless • legless • sexless • airless •talus • bacillus • windlass • Nicklaus •obelus • strobilus •acidophilus, Theophilus •angelus • Aeschylus • perilous •scurrilous • Wenceslas • nautilus •Silas, stylus •jobless •godless, rodless •Patroclus • topless • coxless •lawless, oarless •Aeolus, alveolus, bolas, bolus, gladiolus, holus-bolus, solus, toeless •Troilus • Douglas • useless • Tibullus •garrulous • querulous • fabulous •miraculous • calculus • famulus •crapulous • patulous • nebulous •credulous, sedulous •pendulous • regulus •emulous, tremulous •bibulous • acidulous •meticulous, ridiculous •mimulus, stimulus •scrofulous • flocculus • Romulus •populace, populous •convolvulus •altocumulus, cirrocumulus, cumulus, stratocumulus, tumulus •scrupulous •furunculous, homunculus, ranunculus •Catullus • troublous •gunless, sunless •cutlass, gutless •earless • Heliogabalus •libellous (US libelous) • discobolus •scandalous • Daedalus • astragalus •Nicholas • anomalous • Sardanapalus •tantalus •marvellous (US marvelous) •frivolous • furless • surplus

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