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St. Nicholas was the most popular Greek Orthodox Saint, equivalent to St. Patrick in Irish history, or St. Peter in Roman Catholic tradition,
Greek Orthodox tradition tells of Saint Nicholas being born around AD 280, the only child of a wealthy, elderly couple who lived in Patara, Asia Minor (present-day Turkey).
When his parents died in a plague, Nicholas inherited their wealth.
Nicholas generously gave to the poor, but he did so anonymously, as he wanted the glory to go to God.
This was at a time when a pietist-monastic movement spread through Christianity, where Christians would give away all their money and possessions to live in a cave or join a monastery.
One notable incident that occurred during this time in Nicholas’ life was when a merchant in his town had gone bankrupt.
The creditors threatened to take not only his house and property, but also his children.
The merchant had three daughters. He knew if they were taken it would probably mean a life of sex-trafficking, prostitution or forced marriages.
The merchant had the idea of quickly marrying his daughters off so the creditors could not take them.
Unfortunately, he did not have money for a dowry, which was needed in that area of the world for a legally recognized wedding.
Nicholas heard of the merchant’s dilemma and, late one night, threw a bag of money in the window for the oldest daughter’s dowry.
Supposedly the bag of money landed in a shoe or a stocking that was drying by the fireplace.
It was the talk of the town when the first daughter got married.
Nicholas then threw a bag of money in the window for the second daughter and she was able to get married.
Expecting money for his third daughter, the merchant waited up.
When Nicholas threw the money in, the father ran outside and caught him.
Nicholas made him promise not to tell where the money came from, as he wanted the credit to go to God alone.
This was the origin of secret, midnight gift-giving and hanging stockings by the fireplace on the anniversary of Saint Nicholas’ death, which was DECEMBER 6, 343 AD.
The three bags of money which Nicholas threw into the house are remembered by the three gold balls hung outside of pawnbroker shops — as they present themselves as rescuing families in their time of financial need.
As a result, Nicholas became considered the “patron saint” of pawnbrokers.
There Really is a Santa Claus -History of Saint Nicholas and Christmas Holiday Traditions
After giving away all his money, Nicholas went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land where he intended to join the secluded Monastery of Sion.
Before he made his final commitment to join, somehow the Lord impressed upon him “not to hide his light under a bushel.”
He decided to go back to Asia Minor, but not before first visiting the birthplace of Jesus.
Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad, 1869, of visiting the Church of the Nativity:
“This spot where the very first ‘Merry Christmas!’ was uttered in all the world, and from whence the friend of my childhood, Santa Claus, departed on his first journey, to gladden and continue to gladden roaring firesides on wintry mornings in many a distant land forever and forever.”
Nicholas returned to the southern coast of Asia Minor, to the busy Mediterranean port city of Myra.
Unbeknownst to him, the bishop had just died and the church leaders could not decide who was to be their next bishop.
One of the church leaders had a dream that the first person to church the next day would be named “Nicholas” and that he was to be their next bishop.
As his habit was, Nicholas fasted all night and was the first person to church the next day.
The church leaders told him of the dream and that he was to be their next bishop.
Nicholas was hesitant to accept, as the Roman Emperor was arresting bishops and killing them.
He finally relented and became the Bishop of Myra.
Soon after, Nicholas was arrested and imprisoned during Emperor Diocletian’s brutal persecution of Christians.
There were ten major persecutions of Christians in the first three centuries, and Diocletian’s was the worst.
Suddenly, Diocletian was struck with an intestinal disease so painful that he abdicated the throne on May 1, 305 AD.
The next emperor, Galerius, continued the persecution, but he was struck with an intestinal disease and died in 311 AD.
With no emperor, the Roman Empire was thrown into confusion.
The four major generals decided to fight it out as to who would be the next emperor.
General Constantine was in York, Britain, when he received the news.
His men surrounded him and shouted “Hail Caesar!”
Constantine marched toward Rome to fight General Maxentius.
The day before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, October 28, 312 AD, Constantine reportedly saw the sign of Christ in the sky.
The sign of Christ was the first two letters of the Greek name “Christ.”
The first letter, “X,” is called “Chi” and the second letter, “P,” is called “Rho.”
Constantine put the “XP,” the “Chi-Rho,” on all his military banners and after his victory, he ended the persecution of Christians with the Edict of Milan in 313 ADthe first time in history that Christians were not persecuted by the government.
Over the centuries, the sign of Christ was shortened to just the “Chi” or “X.”
It was called the “Christ’s Cross” or ” Criss-Cross.” This is the origin of “X-mas.”
There Really is a Santa Claus -History of Saint Nicholas and Christmas Holiday Traditions
During the reign of Emperor Constantine, Nicholas was let out of prison.
Now that it was legal to be a Christian, he preached publicly against pagan sexual immorality.
He condemned the worship of the fertility goddess Artemis or Diana, whose temple was nearby, just as the Apostle Paul did as recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter 19.
The Temple to Diana at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, twice as big as the Parthenon in Athens, having 127 huge pillars — and temple prostitutes.
It was the Las Vegas of the Mediterranean world.
Nicholas’ fire and brimstone preaching led the people of Myra to tear down their local temple to Diana, and shortly thereafter, through the preaching of St. John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople (AD 397-403), the people tore down the enormous temple to Diana at Ephesus.
During this time, the Greek Olympics were ended, which were considered pagan, as they competed naked.
Nicholas preached against divination, human sacrifice, and exposure of unwanted infants, which was the Roman equivalent of abortion.
Then the first major heresy in church history began.
A church leader named Arius began the Arian Heresy, saying Jesus was a created being and less than God. The heresy not only split the church, but the Roman Empire.
To settle it, Constantine ordered all the bishops to come to Nicea. It was the first time that all the bishops throughout the known world met together.
There they ended the heresy by writing the Nicene Creed.
The tradition is that St. Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea and was so upset at Arius for starting this heresy that he slapped him across the face.
Evidently, Jolly Old St. Nick had a little temper!
Not only did Nicholas confront heretics, but also corrupt government politicians.
One story was of a Roman governor, in order to cover up his immoral acts, had falsely accused some innocent soldiers and was about to have them executed.
When Nicholas heard of it, he rushed down and broke through the crowd.
He grabbed the executioner’s sword and threw it down, and then publicly revealed, by the power of the Holy Spirit, what evil the governor had done.
The Governor, realizing that Nicholas had no way of knowing the details except by divine insight from God, fell on his knees and begged Nicholas to pray for him.
Greek Orthodox tradition attributes many miraculous answers to St. Nicholas’ prayers.
Once a storm was so bad that fishermen and sailors were unable to get back to shore, so the people begged Nicholas to help.
He went down to the docks and prayed, and the sea became calm so the fishermen and sailors could return safely to port, similar to the way Jesus calmed the sea as recorded in chapter 8 of the Gospel of Matthew.
This led to Nicholas later being considered the “patron saint” of sailors.
When a famine spread across the land, Nicholas asked merchant ships carrying grain from North Africa to Rome, to unload some grain for his people, promising that God would bless them.
On their return trip, they reported that the grain that was left in their ship had multiplied, like the little widow’s meal barrel as promised by Elijah in the First Book of Kings 17:16.
St. Nicholas died DECEMBER 6, 343 AD.
In the 5th century a church was built in Myra in his honor.
When it was damaged in an earthquake in 529 AD, Emperor Justinian rebuilt it.
In 988 AD, Vladimir the Great of Russia converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity and adopted Nicholas as the “patron saint” of Russia.
In the 11th century, Muslim jihad terrorists, the Seljuks Turks, invaded Asia Minor, killing Christians and destroying churches. They also demolished and desecrated the graves of Christian saints.
Islamic Hadith Sahih Muslim (Book 4, No. 2115) states: “Do not leave an image without obliterating it, or a high grave without leveling it.”
In a panic, Christians shipped the remains of St. Nicholas to the town of Bari on the southern coast of Italy in the year 1087.
Pope Urban II dedicated the church, naming it after St. NicholasBasilica di San Nicola de Bari. This officially introduced the Greek St. Nicholas to Western Europe.
So many Greek Christians continued to flee the Muslim invasion that Pope Urban II went to the Council of Claremont in 1095 and called upon European monarchs to send help.
Europe sent help — it was called the First Crusade.
In a backwards sense, Western Europe might not have had St. Nicholas traditions if it had not been for Islamic jihadist invading Eastern Europe.
There Really is a Santa Claus -History of Saint Nicholas and Christmas Holiday Traditions
How did St. Nicholas become Santa Claus?
With St. Nicholas’ remains now in Italy, western Europeans quickly embraced the gift-giving traditions associated with him.
By 1223, so much attention was being given to gift-giving during the Christmas season that Saint Francis of Assisi wanted to refocus the attention to the birth of Christ.
St. Francis created the first “creche” or nativity scene, a humble manger of farm animals with the focus being on Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus — the Son of God come to dwell among men: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
In 1517, Martin Luther began the Reformation, which effectively ended the popular “St. Nicholas Day” in many Protestant countries, as “saints days” were considered a distraction from Christ.
Since Germans like the gift-giving, Martin Luther moved the giving to December 25th to emphasize that all gifts come from the Christ Child.
The German pronunciation of Christ Child was “Christkindl,” which over the centuries became pronounced “Kris Kringle.”
As the Roman Catholic saying is that St. Peter is at the Gates of Heaven, a Greek Orthodox tradition developed from the prophecy that Jesus would return at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead, riding a white horse, and the saints would return with him, riding white horses.
Revelation 19:11-16 “And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war.
His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself.
And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God …
… And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God.
And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, King Of Kings, And Lord Of Lords.”
Revelation 19:14 added:
“… And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean.”
As Nicholas was a saint, the reasoning is that he would certainly be one of multitude returning with Jesus, riding a white horse.
The story became embellished with St. Nicholas coming back once a year for a sort of mini pre-Judgement Day, to check up on the children to see if they are on the right track.
Over the centuries, the story evolved.
Saints came heaven, the New Jerusalem, the Celestial City — which turned into the North Pole.
In Norway there were no horses, so they have St. Nicholas riding a reindeer.
The Lamb’s Book of Life and Book of Works turned into the Book of the “naughty and nice.”
The angels turned into elves.
In England during Henry VIII’s reign, Christmas celebrations became sort of a Mardi Gras — originally a religious day but now a time of partying and carousing.
When Puritans took over England , beginning in 1642, they outlawed Christmas as being too worldly.
When Puritans settled Massachusetts, they had a five shilling fine for anyone caught celebrating Christmas.
Puritan leader, Rev. Cotton Mather (1663-1728), told his congregation, December 25, 1712:
“Can you in your Conscience think, that our Holy Savior is honored, by Mad Mirth, by long Eating, by hard Drinking, by lewd Gaming, by rude Reveling; by a Mass fit for none but a Saturn or a Bacchus, or the Night of a Mahometan Ramadan? You cannot possibly think so!”
But the Dutch loved Christmas and St. Nicholas.
The Dutch holiday tradition is that St. Nicholas comes once a year to give presents to good children.
But the naughty children had something else to look forward to.
St. Nicholas is accompanied by a Moorish costumed helper, Zwarte Piet, who would put naughty children into gunny sacks to take back to Spain where they would be sold into Muslim slavery.
Beginning in 1624, Dutch immigrants brought St. Nicholas traditions to New Amsterdam, which became New York in 1664.
Dutch called Saint Nicholas – “Sant Nikolaus” or “Sinter Klass,” which became pronounced “Santa Claus.”
Living in New York was Washington Irving, the author of Legend of Sleepy Hallow and Rip Van Winkle.
He coined the name for New York as “Gotham City.”
Irving also wrote Diedrich Knickerbocker’s A History of New York, 1809, in which he described St. Nicholas visiting once a year, but no longer wearing a bishop’s outfit, but a typical Dutch outfit of long-trunk hose, leather belt, boots and a stocking hat.
Clement Moore was a Hebrew professor in New York at the General Theological Seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church, which was built on land donated by his family in the neighborhood of Chelsea.
Clement Clarke Moore Park is located in New York City at the corner of 10th Avenue and 22nd Street.
He helped Trinity Church establish a new church on Hudson Street – St. Luke in the Fields.
In 1823, Clement Moore wrote a poem for his six children titled “A Visit From St. Nicholas”:
‘TWAS the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that ST. NICHOLAS soon would be there …”
“When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,
With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be ST. NICK …”
“So up to the house-top the coursers they flew, With the sleigh full of Toys, and ST. NICHOLAS too …”
“As I drew in my head, and was turning around, Down the chimney ST. NICHOLAS came with a bound …”
Clement Moore described St. Nicholas as smaller:
“He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.”
During the Civil War, Harper’s Weekly Magazine had an illustrator named Thomas Nast, famous for creating the Republican elephant and Democrat mule in his political cartoons.
Nast drew St. Nicholas visiting Union troops with a “North Pole” sign behind St. Nick as a political jab at the Confederate South.
In the early 1900s, Haddon Sundblom was a artist famous for his creation of the Quaker Oats man and Aunt Jemima Syrup.
In 1930, Coca Cola hired Sundblom to create a painting of Santa Claus drinking Coke, which he did annually for the next 33 years.
With Coca Cola pioneering mass-marketing to be come the most well-known trademark name in the world, Sundblom’s version of Santa Claus became the most recognizable.
Though much has been added on to the story throughout the centuries, underneath it all, there was a godly, courageous Christian Bishop who lived in 4th century Asia Minor, named Nicholas, who:
loved Jesus enough go into the ministry;
was imprisoned by the Romans for his Christian faith;
stood for the doctrine of the Trinity;
preached against sexually immoral pagan temples;
confronted corrupt politicians; and
was very generous, giving anonymously to the poor in their time of need!
To find out much more get the fascinating book: There Really is a Santa Claus-The History of Saint Nicholas and Christmas Holiday Traditions.”
Listen to Willaim’s interview with Daniel Birgman on The power Hour – December 14, 2018 on the history of Saint Nicholas

2 thoughts on “American Minute with Bill Federer Saint Nicholas”

  1. I listened to AFR yesterday morning, as I always do, heard Bill commenting on the Christian background of Christmas. I would love to have a copy of that, really enjoyed it! Thank you!
    That is what brought me to this page.

  2. Thank you for your comment. Please give us a call 2 877-817-9829 if you would like to get a CD opy of Bill’s interview from December 14th on the origins of Saint Nicholas.

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